Vanilla, a base note in perfumery, is one of the most important perfume ingredients. Let us have a closer look on vanilla and the aroma molecules vanillin and ethyl vanillin, which make up the different forms of the vanilla aroma.
What is the vanilla plant?
Vanilla belongs to the orchids family. There are over 100 known vanilla species. It grows in warm, tropical regions, for example the Caribbean islands, Central and South America, or on Madagascar. The vanilla we know from the kitchen, Vanilla planifolia, is the most common vanilla species as the demand as a spice is very high. Rarer then the Vanilla planifolia is the Tahitian vanilla, Vanilla tahitensis. It smells a bit different and costs more and thus is not used in normal kitchen use. The Spanish seafarers were the first to bring vanilla to Europe. Today, the largest cultivation area is Madagascar, which accounts for about 50% of the world’s traded volume. Another important production country is the island of La Réunion, which was formerly called Bourbon. It is from there that the name Bourbon vanilla originates.
The brown vanilla we all know from the supermarket is a fermented fruit. In order for the vanilla bean to obtain its typical aroma, it must be blanched and dried in the sun. It is only through this process that the aroma we appreciate so much is created.
The price of Vanilla
A kilogram of vanilla beans cost around 20 US dollars in the 1990s. After 2012 the price augmented and settled between 250 and 330 US dollars. Of course the supply and the demand have a huge effect on the price. However, the production of vanilla evolves a lot of human labor. The flowers all have to be pollinated by hand. The price of vanilla absolute is very high, which makes it an expensive perfume ingredient.
The use of vanilla in perfumes
In perfumery, vanilla extract is used as a base note. However, the costly nature of natural extract makes it economically unattractive to use in mass perfumery. Therefore, it is mainly found, if at all, in luxury perfumery.
What is vanillin?
Vanillin is very often used in perfumes and is one of the most important ingredients of all. Not only can it replace the expensive vanilla extract, it can add very subtle facets to the fragrance without contributing too much aroma. Vanillin makes the fragrance warmer, more comforting, voluminous and round. It is the most important aroma substance in the world in terms of quantity. Vanillin is widely used in the food industry; moreover, it is one of the cheapest raw materials.
The difference of vanillin and ethyl vanillin
Another important molecule in perfumery is ethyl vanillin. It smells a bit more powdery and dry than vanillin and is also used as a flavoring in food.