On Location: Vanilla 2007, Day One

See the December 26 edition of P&Fnow for Part 2 of Brownell’s report from Vanilla 2007.

Vanilla 2007, organized by Daphna Havkin-Frenkel (Bakto Flavors), took place November 7th and 8th at the Forsgate Country Club in Jamesburg, NJ. More than 80 international attendees gathered to share the latest information on commercial and scientific developments in vanilla.

Vanilla DNA

Day one of the official Vanilla Congress included several interesting presentations. Faith Belanger of Rutgers University gave a presentation on species identification by DNA sequencing. Belanger explained the basic methodology of DNA sequencing and how it can be used to identify and classify plant species. During her talk, Belanger cited the work initially begun by Ken Cameron of the New York Botanical Garden. Cameron, world renown for his scientific study of orchids, has identified eight unique species of vanilla to date.   

Only two species of vanilla—Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitiensis—are approved for making vanilla extracts in the United States. Belanger concluded her presentation by presenting the results her analysis of a vanilla plant grown widely throughout Central America. In fact, DNA analysis confirmed, as had long been rumored, that this vine is a hybrid cross of V. planifolia and Vanilla pompona. Though not permitted in the United States, V. pompona is used in other parts of the world and exhibits a much greater resistance to disease than does V. planifolia.

Defining “Natural” Vanilla

Perhaps the most controversial presentation of the first day was given by Edward Limowski of the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The TTB is a branch of the US government, which regulates the use of alcohol in both alcoholic beverages and other non-beverage applications, including flavorings. Limowski spoke on proposed rule changes by the TTB and their potential impact on the vanilla industry. Limowski explained that the US Food and Drug Administration recently recognized Rhovanil (Rhodia) as vanillin derived from a natural process. The TTB is proposing several new categories of vanilla flavoring, which would all be recognized as natural, notably “Natural Vanilla Flavor Type,” which would not require any of the flavor to be derived from the named source, vanilla beans. Several attendees questioned not only the logic of the proposed changes, but also whether TTB has the authority to essentially rewrite the Federal Standard of Identity for vanilla.

Vanilla in Mexico

Juan Hernandez of the Mexico National Institute for Forests, Agriculture and Livestock explained that the collapse of the 2007 Mexican vanilla crop was caused by the lethal combination of Hurricane Dean and immature bean drop caused by a fungus believed to thrive in unusually hot, dry weather. As a result, Hernandez estimated that the total 2007 Mexican vanilla crop was reduced by 50% to 15–20 metric tons. Meanwhile, Juan Botello of the University Popular Autonomous in Puebla Mexico introduced the newly formed Mexican Vanilla Institute (IMEVA), which has a number of novel initiatives intended to promote vanilla in general, and vanilla from Mexico in particular. One aim is to create brand awareness and quality differentiation by identifying vanilla from the region as vainilla de Papantla.

Production and Pricing Forecasting

Andres Del Angel Lopez Salas presented a detailed statistical analysis of historical and projected vanilla production and pricing. One of the more interesting—though not universally accepted—conclusions of his analysis was the correlation between vanilla bean prices and the stock prices of large food and beverage manufacturers, whose products use large quantities of vanilla.

Additional presentations on day one included:

  • “Vanilla Quality Control” by Arvind Ranadive of Premier Vanilla
  • “Calibration Study for Vanilla Analyses” by Charles Zapf of McCormick & Co.
  • “Organic Vanilla—It’s the Right Thing to Do” by Hank Kaestner of Dammann & Co.
  • “Patenting in the Vanilla Industry” by Janet Reed of Drinker, Biddle & Reath
  • “Fair Trade—the Future of Vanilla” by Rick Brownell of Virginia Dare Extract Co.
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