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Definition: vanilla from Philip's Encyclopedia

Climbing orchid native to Mexico. The vines bear greenish-yellow flowers that produce seed-pods 20cm (8in) long, which are the source of the flavouring vanilla. Family Orchidaceae; species Vanilla planifolia.

Summary Article: VANILLA
From Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients: Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics

Source: Vanilla planifolia Andr. [syn. V. fragrans (Salisb.) Ames] and V. tahitensis J. W. Moore (Family Orchidaceae).

Common/vernacular names: Bourbon vanilla, Reunion vanilla, Mexican vanilla (V. planifolia); Tahiti vanilla (V. tahitensis); common vanilla.


Large green-stemmed perennial herbaceous vines, reaching a length of about 25 m or more in their wild state; native to tropical America (especially Mexico); cultivated in the tropics (Madagascar, Comoros Islands, French Polynesia, Tahiti, Indonesia, Reunion, Seychelles, Mexico, Tanzania, Uganda, etc.). Part used is the fully grown but unripe fruit (a capsule) commonly called pod or bean, collected 4-9 months after pollination; pollination is all done artificially, except in Mexico where it is partly performed artificially and partly by certain indigenous hummingbirds and butterflies not found elsewhere. The pods are then subjected to a complicated labor-intensive curing (fermentation) and drying process that requires 5-6 months to complete. During this period, vanillin is enzymatically produced and may accumulate as white crystals on the surface of the beans; the pods also turn brown and lose 80% of their weight. A much faster process that takes only a few days is reportedly used in Uganda where the beans are processed mechanically. By far the largest vanilla producer is Madagascar. The Mexican beans and the Bourbon beans, the latter grown in Madagascar, are considered of the best quality; they are larger than the Tahiti beans. The United States is the leading importer and consumer.1

The quality of vanilla beans does not depend on the vanillin content, even though vanillin is generally recognized as having the "vanilla" odor. Other constituents present together with vanillin as a whole are responsible for the flavor and quality of vanilla and its extracts. Value is determined by fragrance rather than vanillin content.1

The so-called "single-strength vanilla extract" is comparable to a 1: 0.1 or 10% tincture (see glossary) containing at least 35% alcohol. The beans used are required by federal regulations to contain no more than 25% moisture, otherwise proportionately more beans will have to be used. The so-called "10-fold extract" is comparable to a 1:1 fluid extract (see glossary) in terms of extract to beans (crude) ratio and is 10 times stronger than the single-strength extract.

Due to the high price of vanilla and the low cost of vanillin, vanilla extracts have been extensively adulterated (ARCTANDER). There is still no simple method to detect with certainty whether or not a vanilla extract is authentic.2,3


Vanilla contains vanillin (1.3-3.0%) as the major flavor component, with over 150 other aroma chemicals also present, most of which are present in traces, including p-hydroxy-benzaldehyde, acetic acid, isobutyric acid, caproic acid, eugenol, furfural, p-hydroxy-benzyl methyl ether, vanillyl ethyl ether, anisyl ethyl ether, and acetaldehyde.2,4–8 The vanillin content differs in different varieties of vanilla, with Bourbon beans containing generally higher amounts than Mexican and Tahiti beans (MARTINDALE; ROSENGARTEN; STAHL).

GC-MS analysis of three vanilla extracts (Tahitian, indonesian, and Bourbon) revealed the presence of ethyl hexanoate, ethyl nonanoate, ethyl decanoate, methyl p-methoxybenzoate, methyl 3-phenyl-2-propenoate, p-methoxybenzaldehyde, 5-propenyl-1, 3-benzodioxole at various concentrations, in addition to vanillin.9

The epicuticular wax contains β-dicarbonyl compounds with long aliphatic chains and an isolated cis double bond. The hydrocarbon chain length is 16-24 carbons long, including the 2, 4-dione moiety.10

The ethyl acetate fraction of the alcoholic extract of the leaves and stems contains 4-ethoxymethylphenol and 4-butoxymethyl-phenol, 4-hydroxy-2-methoxycinnamaldehyde, 3, 4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, in addition to vanillin.11

The vanilla β-D-glucosidase has recently been purified and characterized as a homogenous tetramer (201 kDa) of four identical subunits.12

Other constituents present include resins, sugars, and fixed oil.


The ethyl acetate fraction of the leaves and stems was shown to be toxic against mosquito larvae with 4-butoxymethylphenol as the most active component.11

The odor of vanilla was shown to enhance the sweetness sensation of aspartame (odor-induced taste enhancement) in a group of human volunteers. The effect was mainly attributed to olfactory stimulation rather than taste bud stimulation.13

A 75% aqueous methanol extract of vanilla pods inhibited quorum sensing (method of chemical communication) in Chromobacterium violaceum via reduction of violacin production. The authors suggested that this effect may be useful in preventing bacterial pathogenesis.14


Vanilla has been reported to have allergenic properties in humans, but vanillin was found not to be the principal active agent.15


Many of the uses of vanilla have been replaced by vanillin. However, vanillin cannot replace vanilla in many applications where a delicate natural vanilla flavor or fragrance is called for.

Medicinal, Pharmaceutical, and Cosmetic. Vanilla extracts (especially tincture N.F.) are used in pharmaceutical preparations such as syrups, primarily as a flavoring agent.

Vanilla extracts (tincture, absolute, etc.) are used as fragrance ingredient in perfumes.

Food. Vanilla, vanilla extract, and vanilla oleoresin are widely used as flavor ingredients in most food products, including alcoholic (e.g., liqueurs) and nonalcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts (especially ice cream and yogurt), candy, baked goods, gelatins and puddings, and others. Highest average maximum use level is about 0.964% (9642 ppm) reported for vanilla in baked goods.


Crude and extracts. Crude and tincture are official in N. F.

Regulatory Status. GRAS (§182.10, §182.20, and §169.3).



  • 1. Westpahl, E. and Jansen, P. C. M., eds., Plant Resources of South-East Asia: A Selection, Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands, 1989.
  • 2. Martin, G. E. et al., Food Technol., 29, 54 (1975).
  • 3. Martin, G. E. et al., Food Sci., 42, 1580 (1977).
  • 4. Lawrence, B. M., Perfum Flav., 2, 3 (1977).
  • 5. Shiota, H. and Itoga, K., Korya, 113, 65 (1975).
  • 6. Klimes, I. and Lamparsky, D., Int. Flav. FoodAddit., 7, 272 (1976).
  • 7. Bohnsack, H., Riechst., Aromen, Korperpflegem., 17, 133 (1967).
  • 8. Bohnsack, H., Riechst., Aromen, Korperpflegem., 15, 284 (1965).
  • 9. Sostaric, T. et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., 48, 5802 (2000).
  • 10. Ramaroson-Raomzanmmanana, B. et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., 48, 4739 (2000).
  • 11. Sun, R. et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., 49, 5161 (2001).
  • 12. Odoux, E. et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., 51, 3168 (2003).
  • 13. Sakai, N. et al., Percept. Mot. Skills, 92, 1002 (2001).
  • 14. Choo, J. H. et al., Lett. Appl. Microbiol., 42, 637 (2006).
  • 15. Opdyke, D. L. J., Food Cosmet. Toxicol., 14, 633 (1976).
Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

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