What is Vanillin?

Vanillin, C­8H8O3 is one of the constituents that contribute to the distinct flavor and aroma of vanilla.

It’s an organic crystal that forms on the outside of the vanilla bean. Although it does occur naturally, a cured vanilla pod only contains about 2% dry weight of vanillin. The extraction of naturally occurring vanillin is not only expensive, but highly inefficient. 

The demand for vanilla flavoring has always outweighed the possible supply. The target markets are the ice-cream and chocolate industries, making up almost 75% of the market. Smaller industries include confections, baked goods, perfume, medicines and cleaning products. In 2001, the annual demand or vanillin was 12,000 tons, but only 1800 tons of natural vanillin was produced. The remaining vanillin was chemically synthesized vanillin [1]. 

Although the chemical structure of synthetically produced vanillin and naturally-occurring vanillin are identical, it’s just a cheap alternative for the real thing.

Today, a small amount of synthetic vanillin is made from with lignin wastes, a by-product of the paper/wood pulp industries. However, most of the synthetic vanillin is made from guaiacol, which is a petrochemical precursor. 

Now call me fussy, but I do not want to be eating something that is a product of petrochemicals. I put petrochemicals in my car, I use plastics made from petrochemicals, I wear materials made from petrochemicals, but I do NOT want to be eating the stuff.

I can understand why synthetic vanillin is produced – it’s cost-effective and there’s more room for profit. It’s also produced because there’s a supply and demand chain. But I’m willing to pay more for the real deal.

If vanillin is listed as an ingredient, it’s most likely that it’s synthetically made.  If the product contained naturally occurring vanillin, they call it vanilla. Suffice to say, that I avoid anything that contains vanillin.

 

References

[1] M. J. W. Dignum, J. Kerlera and R. Verpoorte, Vanilla Production: Technological, Chemical and Biosynthetic Aspects, Food Reviews International, 17 (2): 119–120 (2001)

16 thoughts on “What is Vanillin?

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  2. I came across your blog while looking for home-made/raw chocolate spread recipes! What a wealth of info you have provided here! – Thank you, from a mum of 2 little boys trying hard to find a more natural diet for my family in Australia. Like you, I’m from the UK & trusted the food industry there & here in Oz until I had my children and started to learn about what is really in most packaged & store bought foods – fresh foods included……..Thanks for sharing your knowledge & lovely recipes. :0)

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  7. Thank you so much for the research on Vanillin. I had no idea that’s what I was consuming. I was doing a blogpost and came across it by accident. I hope you don’t mind that I used some of your information to inform my readers, but I’ll link it back to you of course. I will definitely be checking out your blog for other vital and insightful information!

    • Hi Cassandra, Thanks for stopping by. Pretty scary about the vanillin, right? It’s good that you are informing people about this. There are so many food additives out there that we have no idea of their origins.

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  11. I bought Halva Pistachio from the HUMMUS GUY today at the farmer’s market. The ingredients Tahini(sesame seeds), Pistachio ,vanillin. I love sesame seeds and pistachio so I bought it, but not familiar with vanillin. I told myself maybe it is not bad so I tasted it and tasted delicious. When I came home , I checked the vanillin and came across your article about vanillin. Am so glad to know this is made from synthetic. Ill return it next week . Thank you for your article.

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