Who doesn’t love the recognisable smell of vanilla?
Even if you don’t, I bet your clients do!
It’s one of the most popular and comforting scents in a home fragrance, bath and body range, making people feel relaxed and joyful. The scent of vanilla is also regularly integrated into many other fragrance oils as a fixative, rounding out non-vanilla scents nicely.
History Of Vanilla
Vanilla is a member of the orchid family (V, plantifolia) that grows on a vine and blooms only once a year. It develops a seed pod that resembles a bean and is native to Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Originally cultivated by the Totonacs, who were conquered by the Aztecs. The Aztecs were then conquered by the Spanish, who brought it to Europe.
Fresh off the vine, vanilla beans don't smell like what we expect. It requires months of curing, drying, and extracting for the flavour to develop. Vanilla is actually a complex mixture of molecules within the pod.
Indonesia and Madagascar are some of the world’s largest vanilla producers. Tahitian and Mexican vanilla has a slightly subtler taste.
Although there are many molecules which make up vanilla, one molecule, vanillin is a main player. Vanillin, a naturally occurring compound of vanilla contributes significantly to the aroma of vanilla.
There’s a massive, insatiable worldwide demand for vanilla, but it is scarce and challenging to harvest. Demand far exceeds supply for this precious resource.
Extraction of vanilla takes place via ethanol and water. There is no such thing as vanilla essential oil because the processes used to extract essential oils such as steam distillation or cold pressing cannot be applied to vanilla. Vanilla is too fragile. Instead, solvents such as ethanol are used.
Vanillin vs Ethyl Vanillin
Vanillin can be produced in a lab readily, via chemical process, and at a lower cost, and more efficiently. It’s the ideal substitute for natural vanilla.
Ethyl vanillin is like vanillin but it far stronger in terms of potency and has a different note. Ethyl-vanillin is an artificial molecule. Vanillin is natural and ethyl vanillin is not. Think of it like buying vanilla extract to bake with or artificial vanilla. One is more expensive than the other.
Vanillin Free Fragrance Oils
You’ve poured gorgeous creamy white candles and packed them away to cure. The room smells like delicious vanilla ice cream! A job well done.
Two weeks later, you go to pack an order and notice they have yellowed or browned. Same story for your bath bombs. You also spent hours making a batch of soap, which turned brown.
Think of it this way. Vanilla pods are green on the vine. They only turn brown as they age.
The component vanillin is responsible for this.
Vanillin happened. It’s natural!
When vanillin is exposed to air and light, it oxidises. The fragrance oils oxidise faster because of this ingredient, causing the oil to grow darker. Vanillin has a pH of 7.3 and as the pH becomes more alkaline, it discolours. Your candles might only start to discolour while already on a retailers shelf once out of the carton. While this is purely aesthetic, and does not affect scent throw, some candle makers want to avoid it. Bath bombs and soaps discolour more rapidly than acidic products such as shampoo.
You’ll notice on each of our fragrances we list if a fragrance contains vanilla or ethyl-vanillin.
Fragrances which are high in vanillin may crystalize when it is cold. The appearance of crystals does not ruin the fragrance. It is the vanillin component of the oil separating from cold. The crystals will melt once the fragrance bottle is dipped in warm water and mix back in. No, the fragrance hasn't gone off.
We also have a listing for vanillin free fragrance oils for those who prefer to skip vanillin altogether.
What to do (if anything)
- Package your products in opaque containers or tins with lids and store them out of light. Avoid clear glass. This will reduce light and air exposure to reduce oxidation.
- Dye your product—plan ahead by making your product yellow or create your own brown.
- Use a vanilla stabiliser to avoid discolouration. There is no one size fits all product. There are different versions for lotions, melt & pour soaps and bath bombs. Also, stabilisers will not eradicate discolouration. They will only slow down the rate at which discolouring occurs. In melt and pour soap, you can use a vanilla colour stabiliser. However, it is not recommended for cold process soap, where an antioxidant like rosemary oleoresin would be a better choice. Ensure that the product you choose is fit for purpose. For example, that the product is either water soluble vs oil soluble. There are vanilla stabilizers available for soap making, however, they cannot be used for candles. In which case your own choice is to use only fragrances that are vanilla free if it really bothers you.
- Add a whitener, e.g., titanium dioxide when a fragrance oil has a low vanilla content.
- If all else fails, acknowledge its natural and accept it, welcome it! As makers we can tend towards perfectionism - obsessing over aspects of your final product your clients won't even notice.