Ahhh, vanilla. Just like that guy you dated in high school - loved by everyone but so unreliable. But more on that later...
Vanilla is a feature note in many, many perfumes, both natural and synthetic, and plays an amazing role as a smoother and rounding ingredient even when you don't know it's there.
For some, the thought of vanilla in perfume makes you think back to your days of The Body Shop Vanilla Perfume oil (remember that one?), and you really don't want to go back there. I mean, after all, no one actually wants to smell like a donut.
Vanilla in Modern Perfumery
Vanilla perfumes have come a long way, and rank among the most popular scents to this day, being included on the lineup from some amazing modern perfume houses, including Annik Goutal (Vanille Exquise), Tom Ford (Tobacco Vanille), Jo Malone (Vanilla & Anise) and Serg Lutens (un bois vanille).
The odour of vanilla can be found in both masculine and feminine fragrances, and the presence of vanilla doesn't always cause a perfume to be sweet; vanilla can be paired with green notes such as coriander (ONE SEED Seeker) or smoky notes such as tobacco (Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille) which take the edge of the sweetness, and cause the vanilla to take a supporting role in a fragrance rather than a starring role.
Natural Vs Synthetic Vanilla
You may think it's easy to tell natural vanilla apart from its synthetic version, but these days perfume ingredients are often very sophisticated and it's becoming more difficult to pick natural vs synthetic vanilla in a scent.
Natural vanilla in Perfume
As with all natural ingredients, there is a lot of complexity in a natural vanilla, and a trained nose will detect nuances of woody and floral aroma, often musky tones or ambery notes. In addition, natural vanilla has aromatherapeutic benefits that the synthetic version does not possess: it is calmative and uplifting, a mood-booster, and beneficial for sleep.
There are several types of natural vanilla extract available to the natural perfumer, from the subtle, woody vanilla oleoresin, through to the candy-like vanilla c02 with its glorious floral qualities, and, our favourite, vanilla absolute, which displays divine woody and smoky tones and adds suaveness to almost all types of scent without necessarily being detected.
Natural vanilla is extracted in a variety of ways from the seeds of the vanilla bean, and sometimes also utilises the vanilla pod itself, or even the flower. Natural vanilla extracts can vary in colour and viscosity, from the typical aqueous brown liquid we are used to seeing in the kitchen, through to an almost black honey-like product, and even a light golden extract.
The vanilla crisis
The problem with natural vanilla is its cost. Remember the vanilla crisis a few years back that left Vanilla Coke lovers in the dark? Well, it's happening again, but on a larger scale this time.
In vanilla's famous heartland, Madagascar, large-scale crop failure and apparent mismanagement has seen the cost of natural vanilla skyrocket over the past 12 months, with prices now up to 1000% higher than twelve months ago! (case in point: vanilla extract from our favourite supplier used to cost us $2.50 per ml, and now costs $10.50 per ml, if we can even get it!)
This has been a challenge for every industry using natural vanilla extracts, and has meant that many perfumers and chocolatiers, among others, have decided to utilise synthetic vanilla instead. It's an understandable decision. It's a challenge to run any business with an unreliable supply of ingredients.
As for ONE SEED, we have considered temporarily withdrawing our fragrances that use large volumes of vanilla, or even a temporary price rise, but instead we have made the decision to keep things as they are, and ride out the storm.
Synthetic Vanilla as a perfume ingredient
While the cost of natural vanilla is now fetching around $10,000 per kg, the cost of synthetic vanilla (a.k.a vanillin) is around $150 per kg! (or, in usable terms, $10 per gram vs 15 cents per gram!) It's easy to see why synthetic vanilla has appeal, especially in an era where synthetic fragrances can be of a high quality. However, when it comes to natural vs synthetic ingredients of any description, the difference is always in its complexity and the subtle nuances. Synthetic fragrance ingredients are typically linear and down change throughout the fragrance dry-down, whereas natural extracts are complex with rich odour profiles. In natural vanilla, for example, there are over 300 different flavours and fragrances detectable!
And for those of us who like to know exactly what's in our fragrances, food and household items, synthetic vanilla, like other chemically-created fragrance ingredients, may have unwanted effects on your health. (For more information about the potential health-effects of synthetic perfume, read our article Natural Perfume 101: Natural Vs Synthetic Scent
Natural vanilla features in these fragrances from the ONE SEED range: Courage (vanilla oleoresin), Devotion
(vanilla c02), Seeker
(vanilla c02), Bohemia
(vanilla oeloresin and absolute) and Solitude