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When I first got into perfumery, Natural Vanilla was entirely, quixotically unattainable. Prices for the absolute worked out at about 30,000USD per kg, so even smelling the stuff when visiting a larger company's lab felt somehow sinful as I clutched the flask for dear life and took a tentative whiff.  


These days, the market has settled somewhat, but much inequality in vanilla farming pervades the industry, especially for flavourings. That reluctance is part of the reason that this is the first time I've properly invested in vanilla absolute. 


This absolute, which is upcycled from the byproduct of a flavour process to produce light and airy Vanilla CO2 fractions, starts from Madagascan pods. After harvest, beans get blanched in hot water, killing the outer skin to halt growth and accelerate the production of vanillin. After this, they get wrapped in wool blankets (sweating phase), triggering enzyme conversion for yet more aroma development. The drying phase includes sun drying for four days, with periodic sun exposure. Subsequently, the pods, now a deep leathery brown, transition to shade drying indoors. 


For their processing, high pressure CO2 is passed through the pods, teasing off the more delicate volatiles. What is left is (I'm told) a sludgy, dark brown mess - aesthetically disappointing but olfactory heaven. This is then processed using a tradional absolute method à la French perfumery: extraction with hexane, followed by washing with ethanol and subsequent evaporation. 


This upcycled absolute that remains is totally glorious, offering boozy, gourmand deliciousness. 


The only downside, if we are being transparent, is that this vanilla is anything but. Flavourists (who, recall, almost completely account for vanilla demand) dream of colourless, mobile, ultra-stable vanilla naturals. If you're making a pale white vanilla ice cream, you might not want dark bits in there. That is part of the reason that the vanilla is originally processed to make a light, whipped extract. 


The consequence of this is that the remaining vanilla goodness is thick and almost gothically dark. It contains more of the vegetal parts of the pods, such as longer chain waxy molecules, which despite being less soluble, are also very longlasting and with fixative effects highly suited for fine fragrances. 


What does all this mean? Essentially, it misbehaves when it comes to making dilutions - a 10% dilution in ethanol alone doesn't work, but the addition of DPG, results in a perfect solution, for example. Triethyl Citrate, which is usually excellent for diluting thick materials like Benzoin or Labdanum, only manages to hold about 5% of this vanilla. To cut a long story shortand I've done the brunt work and have basically optimised the solvent ratios for you: the magic solution tunred outto be 25% in Bisolvent DPG/EtOH. 


You're welcome of course to get it neat and it will dissolve in fragrance concentrate - the 25% option allows for you to use it straight away without getting into a sticky situation. 

Vanilla Absolute (Upcycled)


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