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Friday, July 22, 2011

A Little Vanilla With Your Vanillin?

by the Botanically Inclined Nerd Girl, Marla

I finally decided to splurge and buy a small bottle of real vanilla absolute from India. Like most Americans, I grew up with vanillin, the synthetic version of a compound that exists in actual vanilla, and its cousins, ethyl vanillin and ethyl maltol. I didn't realize that actual vanilla pods have hundreds of aromatic compounds in addition to vanillin.

The waxy absolute surprised me with its complicated, rich, woody scent. It isn't particularly sweet, though vanillin is obviously present. Papery/woody notes similar to sandalwood and amyris, and a very subtle peppery undertone, create a sophisticated, almost ready-to-wear perfume. In fact, vanilla bean absolute could easily be worn on its own, and with hundreds of components, it really is an actual perfume already.

To make my acquaintance with vanilla even more complete, I was shown vanilla orchid vines at the American Orchid Society HQ in Florida. The lush, fleshy vines wound themselves all around the ceiling of the greenhouse, and several green pods, each about 8 inches long, were ripening. The botanist-in-residence explained that the orchids bloom for only 24 hours, and during that time, they must be hand-pollinated. Even then, pods may not grow from the flowers. The pods must be protected while they ripen, then dry out to the brown, hard things we see in gourmet shops. I had no idea it was so labor-intensive, and that so much had gone into my tiny bottle of absolute. It feels quite precious to me now.

Spaniards brought vanilla orchids back to Europe, along with chocolate, in the early 1500s (smart moves, those!), and Thomas Jefferson brought vanilla beans home to the States in 1789 after his ambassadorship to France. To this day, the French and Americans are the nuttiest people on the planet for vanilla, and consume far more than any other groups.

Vanillin was initially extracted from the seed pods of the orchid Vanilla planifolia, but demand far outstripped supply, and several synthetic processes were pioneered, as the French and Americans were growing desperate. Today most vanillin is made from lignin, a byproduct of the paper pulp industry. Ironically, it does not have even a whiff of cardboard, unlike the actual vanilla bean, which does. A glitch in the Matrix, obviously.

What is your favorite vanilla perfume, and do you know if it’s vanilla, or vanillin, or both??

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37 Comments:

OpenID olfactoriastravels.com said...

I love those nerd girl posts, Marla! Your bottle of absolute must smell amazing! My favorite vanilla perfumes are Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille for a hefty dose and Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensée for a lighter version.

3:11 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Vanille Insensee, that's my favorite! I've never tried the Guerlain, must do so when I get back to Paris. Glad you like the nerdy posts!
-Marla

6:42 AM EDT  
Blogger Karin said...

My most recently discovered and now most favorite vanilla - Profumi del Forte Roma Imperiale. It's described on their website as "vanilla and orchid in timeless classicity." The scent is addictive. Notes:

Top notes
Bergamot, mandarin, neroli, rose-wood, coriander seed, cinnamon, tomato leaves

Middle notes
Orchid, jasmine absolute, tuberose absolute, ylang - ylang, iris butter, Turkish rose essence, seringa

Base notes
Civette, oak moss, grey amber. Vanilla, sandalwood

8:00 AM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

Guerlain SDV is my current favorite vanilla, but I love Shalimar, l'Occitane Vanilla, even vintage Vanilla Fields, on occasion. I too, like the nerdy posts; it's great to have some of the science behind the scents.

8:21 AM EDT  
Blogger Cammy said...

I'm a vanilla addict and have tried many of them. I do like Guerlain Shalimar Ode de la Vanille, as well as Shalimar. I wasn't too crazy about Guerlain SDV, strangely enough. A lot of people bemoan the "old" The Body Shop Vanilla Perfume Oil, but I like the current mix just fine. I got a sample of Indult Tihota recently which I haven't tried yet, but I got a faint whiff when I was opening the pkg of samples and it smells like my Holy Grail Vanilla. I refuse to fall in love with a scent that was only made in 999 bottles years ago and is completely discontinued with no hope of being re-released.

8:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Karin,
All I can say to the notes of Roma Imperiale is, "Wow!"--I will be on the lookout for a sample of that one!
-Marla

8:45 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

queen cupcake,
You know I don't usually think of Shalimar, particularly vintage, as a vanilla scent, but in actuality, it is. I think vanillin is the #1 ingredient in the formula, and, in 1925, it was one of the first to have it in such a high amount. Quite yummy.
-Marla

8:49 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cammy,
I've heard raves about Tihota, also, but like you, couldn't get around to snagging one of those rare bottles, the "exclusivity" of the line kind of irked me.
Of course, now that sort of snob appeal marketing is much, much more common, sigh....
-Marla

8:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Monica said...

Marla, you simply must get a sample of Vanilla CO2 extract from White Lotus Aromatics or Eden Botanicals. Very different from the absolute and will blow your mind. The absolute IS earthier and woodier and fab for that.
My favorite vanilla perfumes are fbb fuzzy blue blanket that I made myself with the CO2, coffee flowers, linden flowers and... and I recently was sent a sample of Vanille Botanique by DSH which accentuates the woodiness of the vanilla- unisexy for sure!
For a synth vanilla i liked Orchidee Vanilla by Van Cleef and Arpels - smells like a major ice cream orgy!...and as Hernando would say... "who's for dessert?"

It sure IS humbling to know how much goes into producing the natural essences- agreed there big time! My friends spice farm in Costa Rica Villa Vanilla - rainforestspices does vanilla spice tours.

9:11 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monica,
By really weird coincidence, Eden sent me a sample of the Vanilla CO2with my last order, and it really is exceptional. Retains some very delicate topnotes that the absolute loses. No need to add anything at all, really, just wear as is. Though isn't it amazing how many different directions you can take vanilla?? Citrus, incense, spices, leather, tobacco, amber, it's really a very special material.
-Marla

9:48 AM EDT  
Blogger JoAnne Bassett said...

Thank you Marla for the nerd girl post. Chemistry is good.

I have used French vanilla absolute, vanilla oleoresin, and the vanilla co2. They all have a place in my natural perfumes. In my Aromatic Journey class I teach ...people are always amazed at the "real" vanilla compared to the vanilla in alcohol cooking variety. A number of my perfumes contain vanilla and people do always ask which ones have it..

10:54 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Real vanilla is quite bewitching, isn't it? Have you tried Eden's Vanilla Extract (not for food, for perfumery)? I'm curious about it....
-Marla

12:38 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lilybug said...

We love vanilla in our house. My husband often buys the pods and I've been wanting to buy some absolute for a while.

My favourite vanillin perfume is Shalimar. Not sure if I have any with natural vanilla.

My husband bought me a lime and vanilla syrup for my birthday. It smells rather like the Smell Bent Blimey Limey and is oh so delicious. I discovered Blimey Limey after the syrup, so it will always remind me of that gift and its exquisite richness.

Mmm I feel mellow just thinking about vanilla.

4:37 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vanilla is very soothing, and Blimey Limey is my favorite Smell Bent!
-Marla

5:14 PM EDT  
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10:54 PM EDT  
OpenID quinncreative said...

My kinda girl knows all about 4-hydroxy chickenwire! Love this post. Now I'm drooling over the Forte Roma that Karin mentioned.

12:28 AM EDT  
Blogger janelc said...

Marla, I love vanilla too, especially when I was creating the Sarah Perfume for our line. Eden Biotanicals has a wonderful EO vanilla. The article was very interesting and informative. Thanks.

12:50 AM EDT  
Blogger deeHowe said...

Ahh... making me crave vanilla! I think I'll go spritz some Havana Vanille :)

2:40 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad you wrote about vanilla as I just discovered my new favorite vanilla perfume! My friend decanted a sample to me (knowing I would flip out as I am a vanilla freak) a really rich and yummy, all natural vanilla perfume oil. It is made with pure Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans. She bought the perfume on Etsy at Vireo Perfumes. When I went to buy a bottle of it the store was on vacation. Boo!! What I found interesting about the Vireo vanilla was the creamy, Madagascar bean intertwining with the dreamy, floral aspect of the Tahitian bean to create a non linear vanilla perfume that also had impressive longevity.
I really like Eden's organic co2 vanilla I sampled too. I didn't like Liberty Naturals vanilla absolute as much. Liberty's co2 was unpleasant and had a chemical almost gasoline odor to it. I wonder why Eden's co2 is white and Liberty's co2 brown?
Marla, I am so glad you post about naturals. They are why I read PST. I am a bit of a shy reader but the vanilla blog post made me come out of the shadows. Thank you!-Mel

5:49 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quinncreative,
Yeah, chemistry's fun, isn't it? Especially when it smells good!
-Marla

7:05 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jane,
Yes, the eo is good, too. In fact, I've never had a dud from Eden. They seem to be very careful about sourcing.
-Marla

7:06 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dee,
I thought HV might get a mention. Of course, they changed the name, now i can't remember what it's called. But it has a lot of the real deal in it.
-Marla

7:07 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mel,
Glad you de-lurked, do it again, soon!
-Marla

7:08 AM EDT  
Anonymous Raksha said...

After being disappointed by the musk oil, i ordered the vanilla and was pleasantly surprised by the soft powdery scent it leaves after application. only issue is that after awhile it caused my skin to turn horribly red and itchy!!! i didn't mind this scent but sadly can't wear it after a few times of using it!

9:48 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Raksha,
What was the vanilla oil made from? Natural vanilla pod, or synthetics? It's highly unusual to be allergic to natural vanilla (though I'm sure it can happen), but many of the chemicals vanilla is adulterated with in the market are toxic/allergenic. So sorry it happened to you!
-Marla

10:59 AM EDT  
Anonymous Suzanne said...

I love the nerdy girl posts, Marla. There definitely is a need for more of these types of posts on the perfume blogosphere, though I imagine they're rather challenging to write -- to keep them informative and yet not so much that they are too "dry." You do the nerdy post very well. Loved this!

My favorite vanilla is the very resinous and woody Montale Boise Vanille.

12:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suzanne,
Thank you! And I remember trying the Montale a little while back and liking it very much.
-Marla

1:20 PM EDT  
Blogger woodgirl said...

Wonderful posts, Marla. I like vanilla as a flavor, but not much of a fan of vanilla scents, as they always smell like playdoh to me. But last year I smelled Vanille Noire by Yves Rocher, and fell in love. My brain says "I smell vanilla, should be sweetness coming soon" but it's really woody and dry, which I love. I imagine it's vanillin, not natural vanilla.

9:08 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

woodgirl,
Vanille Noire was a happy surprise for me, too. I went through a 5ml mini very quickly. I also prefer the woody-vanillas to the gourmand vanillas, and natural vanilla can really go in either direction. If you smell Play-Doh in a vanilla fragrance, it could be from the addition of heliotrope, those 2 together really smell exactly like vintage Play-Doh!
-Marla

7:49 AM EDT  
Anonymous maggiecat said...

I love nerd posts! My most recent vanilla favorite is Diptyque's Eau Duelle. I love cozy vanilla scents in fall and winter, which I can't wait for (we're on our 4th week of 100+ days!)

9:18 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maggiecat,
Eau Duelle is yummy, spicy vanilla goodness, isn't it??
-Marla

9:25 PM EDT  
Blogger tarleisio said...

Great post, Marla! I come from a part of the world where vanilla is usually sold in either whole pods - beans - or else as vanilla sugar, so you can imagine my dismay in an American supermarket and neither could be found! I believe I threw a major fit that involved the checkout girl, the manager and a subsequent trip to Whole Foods! ;)

My favorite vanilla - bar none - is Guerlain SDV. But it never ceases to amaze me how many facets it contains and how many directions it can go. I also have a decant of Montale's Boisé Vanillé I really have to try...

10:54 AM EDT  
Blogger Natasha said...

Love, love, love this post! Thanks..my favorite vanilla is, of course, Shalimar...followed by SDV..

As a baker, I adore the smell of vanilla, and have my several dishes with real vanilla beans and they are very different from the synthetic vanilla extract.

11:41 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tarleisio,
What a disappointment not finding the beans! I buy mine from Beanilla:
http://www.beanilla.com/
I'm not affiliated with this company in any way, I'm just an enthusiastic customer, they have every type of vanilla grown on Earth.
-Marla

1:05 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Natasha! Baking with real vanilla really takes it to a new level, doesn't it?
-Marla

1:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

I love vanilla scents, but it's hard to pick just one. I used to wear the original CSP Tiare perfume and the vanilla was outstanding, not as sweet as it is now. I have no idea if it was the natural stuff or not but it was great!

11:55 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tiare and vanilla in combo can always win my heart!
-Marla

7:04 AM EDT  

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