The Hidden Depths of Vanilla

The Hidden Depths of Vanilla

One of my friends often says, “Vanilla is the finest of the flavors.” There are very few people who dislike vanilla (vanilla planifolia). We find it in many products that we both eat and smell.  The real extract from the bean itself is a unparalleled luxurious experience.

Vanilla is rarely used in homeopathy due to its cost, but you do find it in artisan perfume. It adds warmth to a blend, rounds out sharp notes found in many of the forest and herbaceous blends. This is due to the strong sweet musky smell that comes from the seeds and the wood musky sweet smell that come from the pods.

The cost of rich extract that can be obtained the beans is not without reason. The best beans are very climate specific. Vanilla grows best in a warm, humid environment with year-round warm temperatures. Drought and tropical storms have driven the cost of vanilla beans up drastically. This has led to a market spike in synthetic vanilla.

The main constituent or molecule that gives vanilla its characteristic smell is called vanillin. This molecule can be synthesized from lignin (paper mill waste). There are also dozens of other synthetic vanilla specific molecules that are used to flavor and scent our products, and you can bet if the vanilla flavored/scented product you are buying is at a bargain, then it makes use of a synthetic.

You can tincture your own vanilla beans to add depth and warmth to blends. Typically, I reserve my vanilla tinctures for bespoke and semi-bespoke clients.

The aromas of the seed and pod are so different that I like to tincture them separately. I have included instruction of how to make this at home. First obtain 1-3 vanilla beans and 95% proof alcohol (or vodka). Make sure the beans are still pliable (Dried up beans are not going to work as well or impart as much flavor/aroma to your tincture. These beans have not been stored properly or they are simply too old). Cut the bean in half and use a spoon or knife to scrape along the halved bean. Put the seeds in a 30 ml (1 oz) ounce dropper bottle and fill with alcohol. Cut the remaining pods into small pieces and put them in a separate 60 ml (2 oz) dropper bottle. Fill the bottle with 95% proof alcohol (or vodka). Let tincture for 1-3 months. You can always dilute with alcohol if the tincture is too strong. I prefer the vanilla pod tincture in my forest and resin blends. The vanilla seed blend works great in citrus blends.

If you are so inclined, you can experiment or try this simple recipe that highlights vanilla:

Sensual Happiness (A simple perfume recipe)

A simple linear accord can be made by using three ingredients:

15 drops of sweet orange (citrus sinensis),

30 drops of frankincense (Boswellia carterii), or Elemi (Canarium luzonicum)

15-30 drops of your vanilla tincture (Vanilla planifolia)

20 mls of alcohol (95 proof)

5 ml of water

First add the alcohol to a 30 ml (one ounce) dropper bottle (or other container). Second, blend the base of your perfume using the frankincense and vanilla. Add a 1:1 ratio (15 drops to 15 drops) and test the aroma on a scent stick. Continue to add the vanilla until you are satisfied with the aroma. Third add the Orange (if desired). You can add this to a spray bottle or roller bottle.

If you prefer to blend with fractionated coconut oil, then add 5-10 drops more of each of the vanilla and Frankincense and increase the citrus by 10-15 drops. Be careful substituting other citruses as many will be phototoxic at this higher concentration.