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
The vanilla crisis
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!