September 18, 2013
Vanilla extract refers to a number mixtures of flavor compounds carried by ethyl alcohol. Natural vanilla extract uses alcohol to extract the many hundreds of flavor compounds found in vanilla beans. Artificial vanilla extracts are combinations of a host of synthesized compounds.
Vanillin, the primary component of vanilla extract, is largely produced from chemical reactions using lignin. Using this by-product of wood paper milling as a feedstock rather than extracting flavor compounds from plant vanilla sources (like Vanilla planifolia) drastically reduces the cost of production.
Guaiacol, a compound resulting from the pyrolysis of lignin, can also be used as a feedstock, but it is said that artificial vanilla flavoring synthesized from lignin gives a richer taste than vanillin synthesized from guaiacol alone. This is attributed to the presence of byproduct acetovanillone in the lignin-based process. Guaiacol can also synthesize eugenol, the first synthetic feedstock for vanillin synthesis. Guaiacol is characteristic of roasted coffee.
More expensive ethylvanillin is another vanilla-tasting compound that has an even stronger vanilla note. It is commonly produced from catechol which is synthesized from catechin found in the concentrated juice of the thorny tree Acacia catechu.
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