Does it pass the smell test? Nurturing the natural, by checking one ingredient at a time

Published on
March 18, 2022
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Charlotte Devereaux
Charlotte Devereaux
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What is the difference between ethylvanillin and vanillin?

Like potatoes, tomatoes, corn and chocolate, vanilla is a plant that was uniquely indigenous to the Americas.

It was brought back to the old world in the 1520s.

Its unique smell comes from vanillin, which comes from either vanilla pods, or old production methods using plants like pine tree sap.

Nowadays, 85% of the vanillin now comes from guaiacol, or derived from various extracts.

Ethylvanillin is a better and stronger version of vanillin, created by chemistry. Ethylvanillin is a wonderful compound, with a rich history: its use in the famous Shamilar perfume by the French perfumer Jacques Guerlain revolutionized the industry!

Besides its stronger smell, ethylvanillin has many advantages: it is less expensive and made from catechol, a chemical that can be easily produced.

Does it matter whether a product uses vanillin or ethyl vanillin?

It all depends on the claims!

A product can’t claim to be be “natural” or based from “natural plant extracts” if it contains ethylvanillin: even if ethylvanillin has many advantages, like being 3 times more potent than vanillin in terms of smell and much cheaper, it’s not found in nature.

So if a product claims to be based on “natural plant extracts”, it must use vanilla, the orchid plant found in the French islands of Reunion or the beautiful Madagascar. It might also come from pine tree sap or guaiacol.

But it can’t use chemicals coming from reactions that do not use plant extracts, even if they produce a similar smell!

It may seem like geeky details, but at Smarter Sorting, we care about those geeky details: each ingredient in a product tells a story, and we keep an eye on each and every detail like that.

We make sure the story the ingredients tell us matches the product’s claims, using our advanced technology to look at all of what could be said to be small isolated details, to create an accurate overall picture that we call the Product Genome™.

Ethylvanillin and vanillin are wonderful ingredients with delighting smells. But if a product says it has natural plant extracts, we make sure among other things that it does feature vanillin, not ethylvanillin!

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