The secrets of vanilla, why do we love its scent? A spice as sweet as it is heady, with multiple virtues; this star of perfumery has an influence on the whole world, and is the delight of perfumers! Soft and animal, its gourmet notes contrast with its leathery facets, which soften, warm and coat the most unique perfumes! We tell you everything about this iconic perfume ingredient.

The only orchid with the sweet scent of vanilla!

Immature Vanilla Planifolia in flower

Vanilla Planifolia in bloom

In the undergrowth of humid tropical regions, a mysterious vine grows along its shade. Known as vanilla, this very delicate orchid hides edible fruits, called pods. Green and plump, 7 to 25 cm long, they give rise to a spice: vanilla.

Perfume and vanilla, the story of a star ingredient

Landing of vanilla in the 17th century!

Those are the Totonacs , occupants of the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico, who produced vanilla and supplied the Aztec empire with it. It even seems that they used it to flavor their cocoa drinks!

When it was discovered in the 16th century by the Spanish, during their conquest of the American continent, vanilla arrived at the Spanish court, crossed borders, and sparked a real craze in Europe. Increasingly appreciated at the French court, a Royal edict established its sales monopoly in 1962. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that vanilla arrived in Bourbon, on the Reunion Island . However, it is impossible to obtain the famous pods there…

How do we obtain vanilla in perfumery?

Let's then return to Mexico, his country of origin. Down here, vanilla is fertilized by a little bee: the melipone. While gathering flowers, it brings together the male and female organs of the flower to give birth to the pod.

Manual pollination of vanilla, Reunion Island

Hand pollination of vanilla

But this famous Mélipone does not live in Reunion. It was only in 1841 that Edmond Albius , a slave botanist, discovered how to manually fertilize vanilla flowers using a bamboo tip. Incredible but true: today, a worker can fertilize 1000 to 1500 flowers per day!

An almost human maturation cycle?

As for humans, it is 9 months after fertilization that the pods appear mature to leave their mother vanilla plant! The first scalding step consists of immersing them for 3 minutes in water at 65°C, stopping their maturation completely, but also triggering the development of aromas. Then, in an oven for 12 hours, the vanilla takes on its pretty chocolate color and develops its sumptuous fragrance. During the following 15 days, the pods dry in the sun and continue to develop their aromas and scents, as well as their multiple virtues!

Drying of vanilla pods on racks

Drying of vanilla pods on racks

Unripe green vanilla pods

Immature green pods

Today and for many years, it is in Madagascar that 60 to 80% of world production is found.

Vanilla pod extraction in perfumery!

Volatile solvent extraction of vanilla allows the pod to be dissolved in a solvent which is then allowed to evaporate. The pods are then immersed in a tank called an extractor, then subjected to washing with ethanol , a solvent which gives off the vanilla smell, before being brought to the boil.
Result: the evaporation of the solvent gives rise to a very odorous paste called resinoid. After further washing with ethanol and several glazes, the purified concrete gives rise to vanilla absolute . And it’s her that everyone is tearing up!

Vanilla perfume , a beloved smell

The vanilla industry, the French's favorite perfume!

The vanilla pod is surprising, not only for its disarming olfactory richness but also for its botanical nature. You should know that the food industry represents 80 to 85% of the demand for vanilla, and especially for the little ones! Naturally soft and slightly sweet, it is the queen of the most gourmands. In fact, individuals, artisan chocolatiers and ice cream makers, cooks and pastry chefs are very enthusiastic about it, as are the cosmetics and perfume industries!
This renowned flavor spice is also renowned for its stimulating effects. It helps fight fatigue, both intellectual and physical, and is also endowed with properties that stimulate the appetite and facilitate digestion; and help fight hysteria and depression. This vanilla is incredible!

Vanilla, a perfume between happiness and pleasure?

Vanilla pod disemboweled, spent, and its flower

Vanilla pod with seeds

Very enveloping, the vanilla pod comes in a complex palette of milky, almondy, honeyed, smoked, aniseed, powdery, cocoa, smoked, woody, beaten, rumy, balsamy, animalic notes...

Bewitching and generous, it invites gentleness.
Hypnotic and sensual , it incites sin.
Its addiction is bewitching and that’s why it is so coveted in perfumery!

Vanilla, star of perfumery

Vanilla perfume, too expensive to be true?

At around €170 per liter, few perfumes contain natural vanilla extracts. It is often replaced by much sweeter synthetic vanilla molecular accords, which replace or enhance it.
Three forms of vanilla are then used in perfumery:
– Vanilla absolute, obtained after extraction of the pods with a volatile solvent. Its leathery, warm, balsamic, almost smoky smell is less delicious than the one we have in mind. The pod indeed has a completely animal trail !
– Vanillin and the powerful ethyl-vanillin, synthetic molecules much less expensive. All sweet and powdery, here are the gourmet vanillas, almost milky, with all the roundness we love.
– Vanilla tincture which consists of macerating split pods in alcohol for approximately 1 month. A very rare technique that the Guerlain house still rarely uses, with an olfactory profile that is close to the absolute.

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