A greener way to make vanilla
Vanilla is one of those ingredients people use all the time, from its extract for cookies to scrapped vanilla beans for custard and ice cream. It originally came from Mesoamerica, including parts of today’s Mexico and Guatemala. Nonetheless, today most of it comes from Madagascar and the island of Reunion.
It is the second most expensive spice after saffron mainly because vanilla orchids, from which the beans are taken, need to be pollinated by hand. Therefore, artificial vanilla flavoring is used more than 99% of the time. Vanillin, the primary component of vanilla can be synthesized in the lab, but the process is inefficient and generates wastewater that must be treated.
Fortunately, researchers have developed a new and more environmentally friendly way to create vanillin as they reported in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research.
They developed a catalyst that could separate vanillin from other compounds in a boiling water bath. This catalyst can be reused four times with no loss in efficacy, unlike traditional catalysts that have to be replaces after one use. Also, the new technique doesn’t produce high pH wastewater, which usually needed to be neutralized before being released to the environment.
With their technique they produced no more than one gram of liquid vanillin, but they suggest the process can be scaled up for cost-effective commercialization as they’ve already determined the optimum conditions for recovering vanillin.