The essence of vanilla has been seducing our noses for nearly five centuries. Still widely appreciated and used today, its warm notes take us back to distant memories. But the vanilla bean still manages to surprise as much the amateurs as the creators of perfumes. Sweet, spicy or sensual, vanilla can be adorned with many assets to enhance our favorite fragrances. We reveal the secrets of this mythical ingredient, one of the most gourmand of perfumery…
Where does the vanilla essence come from?
Vanilla : an Aztec perfume
In 1519, the explorer Fernando Cortez landed on the Mexican coast of Veracruz. He was welcomed by the people of the city of Tenochtitlan with a welcome drink. Made of chocolate and vanilla, the tchocolatl immediately seduced the navigator who decided to bring the vanilla pod with its extraordinary aroma to his king Charles V. But the Aztecs were careful not to reveal the secrets of the cultivation of their precious orchid… Despite all their attempts, French botanists were unable to obtain the fleshy and fragrant pods in their overseas territories. This is how Mexico kept the monopoly of vanilla production for almost two centuries.
The spice finally arrives in the island of Madagascar in the holds of French colonists boats in the seventeenth century. Vanilla finally sets up on La Réunion in the early nineteenth century. It then takes the name of “Bourbon vanilla”, the name of the island before the French Revolution.
A tropical orchid at the origin of vanilla
Vanilla comes from an orchid native to the Amazon: Vanilla planifolia. This plant grows in tropical forests where the fertile soil and humidity allow it to develop. It looks like a greenish daffodil and grows in the form of a liana by clinging to a tree stake. Its particularity? It is the only orchid to produce a fruit: the vanilla bean.
But vanilla is a complex plant that can not be tamed easily! To obtain the pods that we know, the plant must be pollinated. If this task is naturally handled in the Amazon by the Melipona bee, it is up to the Man to take care of it in the Indian Ocean. Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old slave, is at the origin of the discovery of the hand-pollinating method. Thus, a new technique is born. Using a splinter of bamboo, pollen is collected and put in contact with the pistil. This delicate process can only be done in the morning, when the vanilla flower blooms. Women carrying out this manipulation are poetically called “matchmakers”.
The birth of a vanilla pod
Once the vanilla flower is fertilized, it takes between 10 and 18 months before the stem that supports the flower turns into a pod. When it reaches maturity, even if it is still green, the pod is picked, blanched and fermented in a stewed state. The pods then take a long sunbath of about fifteen days. They are then kept in blankets for the same length of time. A final stage of drying in the open air will give them their typical brown color.
The duration and the delicacy of all these stages make vanilla one of the most expensive spices in the world.
The use of vanilla in perfumery
The extraction of the vanilla essence
One of the natural components of the bean is vanillin. It is this very powerful odorant molecule that spreads the vanilla essence. However, the pods contain very little vanillin since there are 25 grams of vanillin for 1 kilo of pods.
The chemist Theodore Nicolas Golby was the first to extract vanillin by macerating beans in alcohol at 85°C. This is how the technique of vanilla dyeing came about. It consists in placing split pods in alcohol to macerate for about a month. The aromatic components of vanilla migrate into the alcoholic solution. Once the alcohol has evaporated, a thick and sticky liquid is obtained, highly concentrated in perfume: the oleoresin. This technique is now almost no longer used because it is long and unprofitable.
Perfumers can also use the technique of extraction with volatile solvents to obtain vanilla resinoid which, once purified, will give vanilla absolute. This method of manufacture is still popular today.
Another technique, more modern and more expensive, can be used to extract vanillin from the pod: the supercritical CO2 extraction. Placed at a high pressure level, the gas will act as a solvent to take the odoriferous molecules out of the pod. The CO2 is then recovered by depressurization to keep only odorous compounds.
Synthetic vanilla essence
Vanilla is an expensive spice because of the complexity of its cultivation. Chemists and perfumers have therefore joined forces to recreate vanillin using synthetic materials. And you should know that the synthetic vanillin is almost identical to its natural flavor!
During the research on the synthesis of vanilla essence, a new kind of completely artificial molecule appeared: ethylvanillin. Its aromatic power is 2 to 4 times more intense than vanillin! This molecule came up for the first time in the world of perfumery in 1921, when Guerlain added it to its mythical Jicky.
Vanilla as a natural raw material is therefore a prestige product used in luxury perfumery nowadays. Vanillin and ethyl vanillin are widely appreciated by perfumers. Synthesis thus makes it possible to sublimate fragrances with vanilla notes, and to use vanilla as a fixer for more volatile notes.
The olfactory marriages of the vanilla perfume
Vanilla has a special place in perfumers’ nose and in the formulas of many fragrances. And for a good reason, as it fits perfectly to countless notes to reveal an unexpected facet. It goes along regularly with other spices to reveal a warm and sensual perfume. This is why we can find it in most of oriental fragrances. Associated with gourmand notes of caramel, cakes or liquorice, vanilla is sweet and smooth. This cult ingredient also matches well with the olfactory family of woody perfumes to create deep juices rich in velvet notes. Finally, with a floral or citrus heart, vanilla will take you in a cool wake to wear in any season.
The essence of vanilla by Carrément Belle, an ode to sweetness
Where to find the best vanilla perfume for women? The answer is at Carrément Belle, with a fragrance made in France, sensual and comforting!
Vanilla: a gourmand eau de parfum
Our eau de parfum vanille allows us to stay in childhood and remember gourmand memories of a vanilla pastry in a happy kitchen. Vanille is a regressive and voluptuous fragrance, almost maternal thanks to its comforting warmth. Created in the late 80’s, our vanille highlights the absolute of vanilla from Ouganda. This prestigious essence of natural vanilla is soberly surrounded by almond, caramel, coumarin but also tobacco to offer a resolutely gourmand and spicy perfume. A little pleasure to spray all year!
Vanilla candle : comforting scent
The essence of vanilla, we love it on our skin as much as in our home! That’s why we have created a vanilla scented candle. You will find this sunny and spicy accord, largely coated with sweetness without being cloying. Its soft glow is ideal to dive the nose first in a cocooning evening or to accompany you in the preparation of your secret recipes in kitchen. Are you a fan of incense? This vanilla home fragrance is also available as a stick to burn for hours of olfactory bliss!
Did you know that vanilla was such a complex ingredient to use in perfumery? Are you addicted to our fragrance vanille or gourmand scents?
Discover the fragrances mentioned in the article
An informative and interesting piece on vanilla, and vanillin too. I read a blog by Grand View Research regarding vanillin and its growth, titled ‘How The Vanillin Market Is Pervading The Globe’, where it mentioned that an orchid species by the name of ‘Leptotes Bicolor’, found in Paraguay and Southern Brazil also contains vanillin, apart from vanilla beans. Is the method of extraction same from every orchid or is it different?
Hello Anant and thank you for your comment. We do not know this species of orichids, but we will read carefully this article of which you speak. A priori, the extraction method seems to be similar to get the vanillin but the progress of botany and science go very fast and it is not impossible that it may differ.