The joy of vanilla

The joy of Vanilla
Ah, vanilla. It’s in our ice cream, mixed in cream, added to cakes, pancakes and essential in most desserts. Perfumers are not so interested in the flavour, but more so the scent of vanilla. The sweet fine fragrance of vanilla is so well known that it almost makes anyone hungry for the familiar taste.
The vanilla vine grows to a height of approximately 4 metres in tropical countries like Reunion (Bourbon), Madagascar, Mexico, Tahiti and recently Papua New Guinea. Vanilla aromatica and Vanilla plantifolia with its fragrant greenish-yellow flowers are the plants used for commercial purposes. The capsule or the vanilla bean is used for the extraction of an odiferous oil which perfumers call the “Absolute oil of Vanilla”. It is exceedingly fine and very sweet. Almost heady in its fragrance and can make some people swoon.
The vanilla pod is cut into small pieces and soaked in 95% ethanol (we used ethanol distilled from Queensland sugar cane) at a certain percentageslide1 of the final amount. Different firms guard this percentage as a trade secret. Most perfumers can detect a good quality absolute from a poorer one. Vanilla beans can be as much as $1.00/gram (AUD) depending the yearly harvest and variance in supply or scarcity. So vanilla is a wonderful scent but does not come cheap. Each country has a different fragrance and quality, with the Mexican absolute often preferred. We prepare our vanilla absolute in the traditional way at Bud Parfums. The vanilla beans are carefully split and scraped with a chef’s knife, then chopped into tiny pieces. Our vanilla maybe macerating and soaking for months until we are happy with the smell of the infusion.
Currently we blend several absolutes from different countries, to make our exclusive exotic vanilla. Recently we have sourced a new supply from Papua New Guinea. The indigenous people there collect the beans growing wild in the jungle. The beans are dried and wrapped in woollen blankets to “sweat” until you can see the fine white crystals of vanillin on the pods. I love the aroma of this “wild” vanilla. It is interesting to note that although these beans are gathered from the jungle and travel on canoes to a broker, the sellers are always aware of the current U.S. dollar price of the beans on the world market. It is a valuable crop to all involved.
Vanillin is a constituent of natural vanilla. Its scent is much drier than the pods. It can be cheaper than the absolute and is now produced synthetically, which can save the rare patches of the vanilla vine. Ethyl vanillin is another derivative and is a fine white crystal. You can find liberal amounts of vanilla in most perfumes depending on how much the perfumer wants to add or can afford.
So if you want a quick “blast” or “snort” of vanilla just take a little whiff of that vanilla essence you have in the cupboard and you will see exactly what I mean. “Ah, vanilla…..”