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There’s Nothing ‘Plain’ About Vanilla*

By: Felix Buccellato, Custom Essence Inc.
Posted: February 20, 2008, from the March 2008 issue of P&F magazine.

“White vanilla” has often been referred to as “plain vanilla.” The ubiquity of vanilla and vanilla flavored and fragranced products has created this common misconception. Truthfully, there is nothing plain, or white, about vanilla. The vanilla beans start out green and are dried to a dark chocolate brown.

How do people make the association that vanilla is white? It is most likely due to marketers of products like candles who think that vanilla should be white because vanilla ice cream is white. What may not be realized is that the dark brown vanilla flavor is added to the cold cream, sugar and other minor ingredients, kept frozen and in the dark. The product is shielded from any lightinduced reactions that would normally cause the product to turn yellow, then brown.

What is Vanilla?

The magic of vanilla or vanillin is that the odor is perceived as very pleasant and people can’t get enough of it. The nearly magical performance odor threshold for humans is 1.18 x 10-11. We have many products in the flavor and fragrance field with low odor thresholds. Vanillin differs in a very important way. Most ingredients with low odor thresholds like pyrazines, pyridines, thiols and various thiazoles, mercaptans and thioesters possess a very pungent and negative odor at high concentrations. Vanillin can be smelled and appreciated at extremely high levels and never loses its appealing aroma. There are very few items that fall in this category.

Vanilla is an extremely complex natural product containing more than 300 ingredients. One of the major characterizing components is vanillin. Vanillin became available as a synthetic ingredient in 1874 in a process developed by Ferdinand Tiemann and Wilhelm Harmann (Haarmann & Reimer; now Symrise).