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New Uses for Vanilla




Vanilla is the world’s most popular and used flavor. Vanilla was introduced to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors who brought vanilla beans from Mexico in the sixteenth centaury. The flavor has been gaining in popularity ever since. Vanilla is the most popular and loved flavor, apparently because it evokes emotions of comfort and familiarity. Givaudan (Food Ingredients first, August 14, 2008) verified long held beliefs regarding the universal appeal and an emotional attachment to natural vanilla. Vanilla has been used traditionally as sweet flavor in food and in fragrances. Vanilla has found new uses, however, by two new emergent trends. One is Natural, Organic and health consciousness. The other is culinology, the practice of combining art and food science by chefs to create new exciting recipes that will taste and look great and will be nutritionaly balance as well. Although vanilla by itself tastes almost bitter, there are around 300 individual components in the vanilla bean, which create a unique pleasant experience in each different application. Vanilla beans and other vanilla products have become more affordable, an encouragement for the use of vanilla in traditional as well as new applications.


Uses of vanilla include: flavors, fragrances, nutraceuticals, personal care, household care, aroma therapy and crafts.


Traditional Uses for Vanilla


Vanilla has been used traditionally as a sweet flavor in ice cream, yogurt, and other dairy products, confectionary, baking or beverages and many other food products. Although vanilla is used for its own distinctive flavor it is also a flavor enhancer, which can be added to other flavors such as fruit flavors, salad dressing or meat sauces. Addition of vanilla to hot and spicy food, ginger, hot mustard or hot peppers will smooth and balance the overall flavor. In classic American cuisine vanilla had been used in sweet dishes whereas in hot Mexican dishes vanilla is used to mellow the hot spicy taste.


Vanilla Use as Flavor in New Applications


Culinology, the blending of culinary arts and food technology, makes use of vanilla as an additive to many foods, similar to salt and pepper. In an emergent trend of culinology, chefs in top restaurants make use of vanilla in non-traditional sea food, vegetables and meat dishes. Whereas the traditional use of vanilla focused on dessert-type dishes culinology applies vanilla to main dishes. Vanilla is used as a versatile flavor to enhance food pleasure. Dishes such as butter nut squash soup, sweet potato, yam, turnip or other similar preparations call for a dash of  vanilla. In the last few years flavor companies keep chefs on staff to explore new flavor combinations and applications, including the increased use of vanilla. Many combinations, such as vanilla-raspberry, vanilla-mango, vanilla-passion fruit, vanilla-ginger or other mixes, are appearing more and more on the stores shelves or freezers. Apparently vanilla is a good complementary to many fruit flavored iced creams, beverages, baked goods and others.With the trend for Natural and health awareness as well as price and availability, artificial vanilla ice cream is vanishing from many supermarkets. This trend is, apparently, not reversible.


Vanilla Proliferation in Retail Stores-Back to Home Cooking


When visiting retail stores vanilla extracts and vanilla beans (sometime other vanilla products) can be found in abundance on the shelf. There are around 200 different vanilla brands, including store brands. It is found in supermarkets, most health food stores, gourmet stores, department stores, discount stores such as Home Goods, art supplies stores such Michael’s or A.C. Moore and even Wal-Mart and Target. The consumers are specifically shopping for vanilla to be used in home cooking. Vanilla beans have became more affordable and abundant in the last few years. This trend stimulated consumption and created new applications, to the point where synthetic vanilla has become scarce. Vanilla extract, enjoying a long shelf life (in dark glass bottles), is found on store shelves along side salt, pepper and olive oil.


Vanilla Use in Nutracuticals


In an era of nutraceuticals and food supplements vanilla has become an important player. An antioxidant drink for dietary supplements contains a broad spectrum of herbal antioxidants, including vanilla. Vanilla is a good antioxidant, a claim supported by vast literature, also showing antioxidant potency by various vanilla components. The use of vanilla in nutraceuticles can double as both antioxidant and flavor. The majority of sport drinks contain vanilla flavor, which blends with and mellows the taste of a long list of ingredients. It also gives a sense of comfort and safety to “energy drinks” that contain many new and unfamiliar ingredients and new fruit juices. A third benefit is the use of vanilla for the function as a natural preservative in this or other food preparations. In heath clubs , where energy or protein drinks are freshly prepared, it is common to observe vanilla extract added to shakes.


Vanilla as an Appetite Enhancer and Flavor Promoter


In a growing elderly population a great deal of attention has been giving to nutritional requirements. There are a few studies showing that the elderly or sick do not eat simply because they do not like the taste of served foods. In Ensur, a complete and balanced food preparation for these consumer groups, vanilla is used as an appetite enhancer and is the most popular flavor following chocolate, apparently because of familiarity and sense of safety.


Vanilla in Personal Care (functional cream, oral care)


In the last few years anti aging creams, “made with real vanilla”, is cited on the list of ingredients. Products include some of the most expensive ones such as ‘Chanel Precision Sublimage Essential Regenerating Cream’ as well as others less expensive lines. Ground vanilla beans and vanilla seeds (called ‘specs’ in food products, mostly ice cream) can be seen together with pomegranate and berries as foliated particle from foot cream to fancy face scrub. While the vanilla seeds do not add any aroma, the ground beans will have a double effect, that is, aroma and scouring particles. With a growing trend of organic personal products and use of food products for cosmetics and personal care, use of vanilla will add familiarity and softness to these products. In the era of extensive use of antioxidants vanilla will fit right in because of its potent antioxidant efficacy.


Vanilla beans contain around 300 natural chemicals, many of which have biological activity such as anti-inflammation, anti-microbial, sun blockage and others. These compounds include polyphenols, unique lipids or organic acids. The use of vanilla in cosmetics is, therefore, not surprising. Phenols are known as sun blocking compounds. There is growing information and patents suggesting that components of vanilla can be used as sun screen ingredients and high skin stability.


Green vanilla beans contain important proteases (protein degrading enzymes) that indeed can be used as skin peeling agents. Vanilla flowers and vanilla areal roots specialize in the accumulation of different natural chemicals including antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammation and mostly antioxidants properties. Green bean tissue is especially high in anti-microbial and anti-fungal agents. Areal roots contain different combinations of phenolic compounds, which might be tested for special applications. Hence, other portions of the vanilla plant might be explored for new and beneficial products.


Lipids are another important family of constituent, comprising around 5% of the dry weight of vanilla beans. Vanilla tahetensis from Papua New Guinea (PNG) contain particularly a large percentage of lipids. These lipids are mostly phospholipids, which have great functional value in creams and emulsions. Analyses revealed that natural lipids from the Vanilla species, used incommerce, contain long-chain γ-pyrone compounds with special configurations. The metabolic function or practical value of these lipids is not known. Vanilla is also rich in hydrocarbons comprising a large family of alkanes and branched alkanes. The biological function of these compounds awaits further investigation. We are exploring the application of vanilla lipids to personal care products to be used as creams, lotions and other uses.


Vanilla has been used for some time in mouth wash formulation, usually with other extracts. Examples include ACT – Restoring Mouthwash Vanilla Mint and Listerine Antiseptic Mouthwash Vanilla Mint.


Household Care


Vanilla is incorporated as a natural ingredient in household products. Vanilla is added as a fragrance by itself or in combination with other natural fragrances. Examples include Mr. Clean Multi-Surface Cleaner – Lavender Vanilla Comfort (Procter & Gamble), Purex Ultra Concentrate Laundry Detergent, Cherry Blossoms & Vanilla (Dial Corporation) and Tide Simple Pleasures Vanilla and Lavender (Procter & Gamble). These are examples of products manufactured by large corporations but there are many examples of products by small to medium sized companies. These products express the continued trend for ‘natural’ and ‘organic’, which strike a cord of comfort and familiarity in consumers, particularly in bad economic times.


Vanilla in Fragrances


A database listing 10,000 fragrances, indicates that 50 % of fragrances use vanilla in some amount (Felix Buccellato, Custom Essence Inc). The popularity of vanilla in fragrances is attributed to the fact that vanilla might evoke childhood memories and also a comforting effect. Vanilla and vanilla products have been used in fragrances for more than two hundred years. Vanilla is used extensively in fragrances because it offer warm, sweet, aromatic and pleasant characters, which remind users of comfort, familiarity and has a soothing effect. One of the most famous fragrances containing vanilla is a beautiful oriental blend called Shalimar. It has a foundation of vanilla, benzoin, topped off with bergamot and citrus notes with traces of many modifiers. The signature however, is the beautiful and extremely long lasting and diffusive vanilla character as described by the perfumer Felix Buccellato, Custom Essence Inc. New extraction methods retrieve different fragrance profiles from vanilla beans, coupled to the trend for Natural and Organic will result in new fragrances containing vanilla. New examples include The One Perfume by Dolce & Gabbana, Vanilla Field by Coti or Vanilla Lace from Victoria’s Secret. Vanilla is probably the single most recognizable fragrance or additive in the world and marketers are looking to connect with the consumer on two levels: familiarity as well as “natural” type additives. This trend continues and is likely to continue for a long time. New regions for vanilla production. Although there has been some decline in vanilla production, in traditional vanilla growing regions, due to the recent low market prices, there are also some new emerging vanilla growing regions. For the last three years, CBI (Cooperative Business International) has been marketing the vanilla produced in Tanzania in partnership with a large farmer cooperative of over 5,000 farmers from the northern Bukoba region.


These Vanilla planifolia species are superior quality to much of what is sold in the market today and this remains a promising region for the future as the crop size grows year on year. A few years ago Papua New Guinea (PNG) emerged as a new and important production region, which cultivate mostly Vanilla tahitensis. Vanilla is propagated by cutting and, therefore, comprises the same genetic make up of vanilla grown in different regions. It is dangerous, because in case of disease, cultivated vanilla, a mono culture, could be wiped off. Given that vanilla flavor profile is an outcome of the interaction of vanilla plant biology and the environment, it is expected that production in new regions will lead to vanilla beans with new flavor profiles. For example, vanilla beans grown in Mexico carry a different flavor profile from beans grown in Madagascar, although with the same genetic make up.




Vanilla has been traditionally a major flavor. The popularity of vanilla will continue to increase, driven by new trends for Natural Organic and health consciousness. Culinology is also providing new uses for vanilla; vanilla is being used in main dishes and is no longer restricted to desserts. An economic downturn is yet another reason for new uses of vanilla since consumers turn to home cooking and familiar comfort foods, which come with increased use of vanilla. Vanilla is the only flavor with its own standard of identity. Defines how it is produced and labeled.21 CFR 169.175.As long as vanilla is affordable, coupled with the trend for Natural and Organic we will witness proliferation in the use of vanilla in new profiles in fragrances, household products, and cosmetics.

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