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Unveiling the Distinctive Aroma of Vanilla Through Its Volatile Compounds

Vanilla is a plant that belongs to the Orchidaceae family. Some of the countries and regions that cultivate vanilla include Mexico, Madagascar, Tahiti, Indonesia, and Uganda. Indonesia has become the second-largest producer of vanilla after Madagascar, with production methods that emphasize quantity [1].

vanilla bean
Figure 1. Vanilla bean [2]

Vanilla is obtained from the beans of Vanilla pompona, Vanilla tahitiensis, and Vanilla planifolia [3]. When producing vanilla, several key steps require attention [4]:

1. The plant's flowers must be pollinated manually.

2. The fruit, in the form of beans, will be harvested nine months later

3. It is necessary to store the vanilla green beans for six months to develop the compounds responsible for the vanilla flavor.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, surpassed only by saffron. It is considered the most important flavoring in the food and perfume industries [5,6]. The development of vanilla aroma occurs during the transformation of green vanilla beans into black. The aroma is generated by volatile compounds found in vanilla.

The most important and dominant volatile compound responsible for the sweet and creamy aroma of vanilla is vanillin, which can significantly enhance the flavor [7]. The vanillin content varies from 1.2% to 2.5%, depending on the species, plant maturity, and preservation process used [8].

vanillin chemical structure
Figure 2. Vanillin

In addition to vanillin, other dominant volatile compounds include vanillic acid, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde, and p-hydroxybenzoic acid [8].

chemical structure of major components in vanilla
Figure 3. Vanillic Acid, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde, and p-hydroxybenzoic acid

Vanillic acid is a phenolic acid that imparts a soft and pleasant aroma. In Kaur and Chakraborty's study, vanillic acid underwent oxidative decarboxylation to form methoxyhydroquinone or was reduced to produce vanillin and vanillyl alcohol. However, the yield of vanillin from the decarboxylation of vanillic acid is relatively low, which leads to a decrease in vanillic acid content during the pickling and drying periods [9].

Furthermore, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde serves as an indicator of quality and authenticity. The concentration of p-hydroxybenzaldehyde after curing is reported to range from 0.06% to 0.29% [10]. In contrast, the content of p-hydroxybenzoic acid is much lower, being approximately 100 times less than vanillin, with a reported content of 0.026% [10].

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[3] de Guzman, C. C., & Zara, R. R. (2012). Vanilla. In K. V. Peter (Ed.), Handbook of Herbs and Spices (2nd ed). Cambridge, UK: Woodhead Publishing in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition

[4] Korthou, H., & Verpoorte, R. V. (2007). Vanilla. In R. G. Berger (Ed.), Flavours and Fragrances. Berlin: Springer.

[5] Hernández-Fernández, M. Á., Rojas-Avila, A., Vazquez-Landaverde, P. A., Cornejo-Mazón, M., & Dávila-Ortiz, G. (2019). Volatile Compounds and Fatty Acids in Oleoresins from Vanilla planifolia Andrews Obtained by Extraction with Supercritical Carbon Dioxide. CyTA-Journal of Food, 17(1), 419-430.

[6] Pérez-Silva, A., Odoux, E., Brat, P., Ribeyre, F., Rodriguez-Jimenes, G., Robles-Olvera, V., & Günata, Z. (2006). GC–MS and GC–Olfactometry Analysis of Aroma Compounds in A Representative Organic Aroma Extract from Cured Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia G. Jackson) Beans. Food chemistry, 99(4), 728-735.

[7] Ranadive, A. (2006). Vanilla-Inside Look: Chemistry and Biochemistry of Vanilla Flavor-A Survey of The Latest Research. Perfumer and Flavorist, 31(3), 38-45.

[9] Kaur, B., & Chakraborty, D. (2013). Biotechnological and Molecular Approaches for Vanillin Production: A Review. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, 169, 1353-1372.

[10] Cai, Y., Gu, F., Hong, Y., Chen, Y., Xu, F., & An, K. (2019). Metabolite Transformation and Enzyme Activities of Hainan Vanilla Beans During Curing to Improve Flavor Formation. Molecules, 24(15), 2781.

[11] Ranadive, A. S. (1992). Vanillin and Related Flavor Compounds in Vanilla Extracts Made from Beans of Various Global Origins. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 40(10), 1922-1924.


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