Vanilla: The New Sandalwood

Vanilla in bean and blossom

Once upon a time Mysore sandalwood was hard to find.  The material had been over harvested and the Indian government laid down the law about how much Indian sandalwood was going to be sold each year in order to protect stocks.

Something similar, at least regarding tightness of the current market, is happening with vanilla.  The trouble is that vanilla is difficult to grow, has to be hand pollinated, and  the beans themselves have to age. They have to go from their scentless green stage to their nearly black and perfumed maturity.  In the meantime, some people steal beans and secrete

retro Hershey’s Bar

them waiting for prices to rise, and in producing countries more of a squeeze has been put on supplies by Hershey’s decision in 2015 to add real vanilla to their famed chocolate bar.  This is good news for chocolate lovers, but puts extra pressure on Madagascar which is home to the most sought after vanilla, and by extension other producers of vanilla. As a result, vanilla is getting expensive.

How expensive?  Three beans from Penzey’s currently are up to the $18.95 mark and if you want to find vanilla essential oil-you are going to search.  Most of the sites I checked were either out, or else selling vanillin/vanilla combinations, or else tinctured vanilla, which is a pretty thin concentration compared to an absolute or an essential oil.

The Vanilla vine in flower

So what about our cherished perfume vanillas?  The price is either going to rise, or else you will find more of the vanillin that Hershey’s is no longer buying in your bottles.  That may mean  everything from L’Aimant to Amouage is going to refo, dilute, or else up what they are asking since vanilla appears in about 25% of perfumes.

Things could be worse.  At least there is a time honored substitute for vanilla out there and eventually some other parts of the world may get into the vanilla business.  And if you produce vanilla that may at least stabilize the beans’  market value.

Here’s a short list of vanilla varieties.

  1. Madagascar:  Everybody’s favorite it would appear. Most people liken the smell to the bailed leaves of drying tobacco, with some aspects of woodiness and sweetness in the scent.  I like Madagascar, but my own favorite is…
  2. Nielsen massey’s Tahitian Vanilla Extract

    Tahitian: There is something more flowery and ethereal about Tahitian vanilla to my nose.  This seems to be made for acting as a fixitive for floral bouquets.  There is also a very creamy aspect to Tahitian which I don’t find in Madagascar vanilla, but I guess you trade delicacy for depth.

  3. Mexican: Here is where the woodiness seems to predominate and Mexican seems very well suited to all sorts of masculine notes or to woody perfumes. It is a heartier drier vanilla.  Whichever you prefer though, and for the moment, you may want to stock up because for the foreseeable future, vanilla is not going to be either easy to find-or cheap.
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6 thoughts on “Vanilla: The New Sandalwood

    • Know what you mean-I love vanilla so much that am considering tincturing my own beans. I have not tried vodka, in stead I have always “tinctured” vanilla in bourbon whiskey, and baked with the results. Now think I might tincture the beans for scent-talk about your boozy perfume ingredients- and see what comes of it.
      A propos vanilla, don’t think I have ever found a perfect one. Use Vanille Tonka, and like Mandy Aftel’s Vanilla Smoke, lately tried to make peace with Indult Tihota, but that smells very 1990’s to me.
      Vanillas must be quite subjective…

  1. I miss that spritely lime note that used to open Vanille Tonka. It’s still in (what’s left of) my 2010 bottle, but completely gone from the one I bought in 2015.

    I’m really kinda *not* a vanilla fan, or at least not a fan of vanilla-focused fragrances. (Vanilla-focused desserts, though, MAN I am all over those. Vanilla cake is my favorite. And I have some drugstore lipsticks that smell of vanilla and please me every time I wear them.)

    I like Madagascar vanilla, but I think I prefer the Tahitian as well. On the other hand, having a vanilla preference is such a foodie-obsessed-third-world-problem that I wind up rolling my eyes at myself and buying whatever I can get my hands on.

    • We have a Penzey’s down the road and this is where I do all my vanilla huffing, a hobby which is getting pricey. And same on vanilla desserts- like them better than chocolate!

      As to VT. Yup the lime is gone. My last bottle which I proudly bought in Paris has about twice the Frankincense and half the vanilla, no lime, and is part of a de Nicolai trend I noticed, which is, that now the son is handling so much of the biz, they are moving Middle Eastwards in terms of style and ingredients. It’s no doubt the thing to do these days but I really enjoy French perfume and Middle Eastern can be awfully heavy. Hope they do not over-do this trend.

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