Synthetic Vanilla

U.S. manufactured artificial vanilla is produced from synthetic "vanillin", Lignin Vanillin, which is made from a by-product of the paper producing industry.  This by product is chemically treated to mimic the flavor of vanilla.  The product help take care of a ecological problem with paper producers and created an "affordable" vanilla flavoring for the public. The other synthetic common in Mexican artificial flavorings is Ethyl Vanillin derived from coal tar. True vanilla is amber colored.  Synthetics tend to be dark and murky either from the coal tar from which they are produced or from caramel and red food colorings. Mexico today still uses coumarin in much of its vanilla products. Lacking strict labeling laws as we have in the U.S., Mexican manufactured products may not list accurate ingredients.

Vanillin was first isolated as a relatively pure substance in 1858 by Nicolas-Theodore Gobley, who obtained it by evaporating a vanilla extract to dryness, and recrystallizing the resulting solids from hot water. In 1874, the german scientists Ferdinand Tiemann and Wilhelm Haarmann deduced its chemical structure, at the same time finding a synthesis for vanillin from coniferin, a glycoside of iso-eugenol found in pine bark, and in 1876, Karl Reimer synthesized vanillin from guaiacol. Guaiacol is produced in the gut of locusts, Schistocerca gregaria, by the break down of plant material. This process is undertaken by the gut bacterium Pantoea (= Enterobacter) agglomerans. Guaiacol is one of the main components of the pheromones that cause locust swarming. Guaiacol can be prepared by diverse routes in the laboratory. 2-Aminoanisole, derived in two steps from anisole, can be hydrolyzed via its diazonium derivative. Guaiacol can be synthesized by the dimethylation of catechol followed by selective mono-demethylation.

C6H4(OCH3)2 + C2H5SNa → C6H4(OCH3)(ONa) + C2H5SCH3

By the late 19th century, semi-synthetic vanillin derived from the eugenol found in clove oil was commercially available. Synthetic vanillin became significantly more available in the 1930s, when production from clove oil was supplanted by production from the lignin-containing waste produced by the Kraft process for preparing wood pulp for the paper industry. By 1981, a single pulp and paper mill in Ontario supplied 60% of the world market for synthetic vanillin. However, subsequent developments in the wood pulp industry have made its lignin wastes less attractive as a raw material for vanillin synthesis. While some vanillin is still made from lignin wastes, most synthetic vanillin is today synthesized in a two-step process from the petrochemical precursors guaiacol and glyoxylic acid.

Beginning in 2000, Rhodia began marketing biosynthetic vanillin prepared by the action of microorganisms on ferulic acid extracted from ricebran. At $700/kg, this product, sold under the trademarked name Rhovanil Natural, is not cost-competitive with petrochemical vanillin, which sells for around $15/kg. However, unlike vanillin synthesized from lignin or guaiacol, it can be labeled as a natural flavoring.


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