The heavenly scent of vanilla is something we’re all familiar with, and this popularity has led to a scarcity of the beans, which are seed pods from an orchid. The labour involved in the cultivation of vanilla makes it the second most expensive spice, after saffron. Vanilla flowers must be pollinated by hand, and the curing of the pods is an extensive manual process. Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of quality vanilla.
The main aroma of vanilla comes from the vanillin molecule which is easily and cheaply synthesised from crude oil or sawdust. Many fragrances will use vanillin instead of natural vanilla due to cost and availability, as well as the fact that it’s a much cleaner smelling vanilla note. However, the complexity of natural vanilla is remarkable, having some earthy and boozy facets, which can even be slightly off-putting for those used to the synthetic’s ‘safe’ sweetness.
Vanilla is used in almost all styles of fragrance, being particularly essential in many gourmands. Vanilla is also one of the primary components of an amber accord and can be found in a high proportion of oriental fragrances.