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Elf's Compendium of Notes 10- Vanilla vs. Vanillin

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I finally decided to splurge and buy a small bottle of real vanilla absolute from India (via Liberty Naturals). I grew up with vanillin, the synthetic version of a compound that exists in actual vanilla, and its cousins, ethyl vanillin and methyl vanillin. I didn't realize that actual vanilla pods have hundreds of aromatic compounds in addition to vanillin!
The waxy absolute surprised me with it's complicated, rich, and woody scent. It isn't particularly sweet, though vanillin is a dominant note. Woody notes similar to sandalwood and amyris, and a very subtle peppery undertone, create a sophisticated, almost ready-to-wear perfume. In fact, this 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 over 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 at Williams-Sonoma. 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.


  1. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Thanks for another interesting post, Elf. Of course, I always want to hear more about your adventures.
    First, what's the consistency of your vanilla absolute? Some other absolutes I've worked with are so sticky & viscous, they're almost solid. If that's the case with your vanilla absolute, how hot do you have to get it before your can pour or measure it?
    Second, How well does it disolve in alcohol? Or have you tried disolving it in jojoba or some other oil?
  2. Elf's Avatar
    The absolute I have is somewhat waxy in consistency, semi-solid. It dissolves easily in perfumer's alcohol, but I put the resulting liquid through a coffee filter, as there are some particulates (not much, I just filter for aesthetic reasons really). To get at the absolute, I use a tiny scoop to get it out of the tiny bottle!


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