Natural Vanilla Alternative Featured

Vanilla is a popular flavour around the world, but prices and availability of extracts from the vanilla plant can fluctuate dramatically due to external factors such as weather. Vanilla extract obtained by the bioconversion of ferulic acid can solve this demand problem. By Mike Tan, Sales Director Asia-Pacific, Solvay Aroma Performance, Singapore

Vanilla is one of the world’s best loved flavours, not only for its unique sensory qualities but also for its ability to bring out the best in other flavours. Reminiscent of tenderness and childhood, vanilla is one of the most trendy flavours in the world.

In recent years, the food market saw an increase in the demand for natural flavours. This major trend started in the US and Western Europe, and is now bound to reach the Asia Pacific region. In the case of vanilla and sweet flavours, this growing demand cannot be met by the available volume of cultivated vanilla beans.

A cured vanilla bean contains several organic substances, including vanillin in relatively small quantities, in the range of 1.6-2 percent of the dry matter. Vanillin is a phenolenic aldehyde that is the organoleptic characteristic aroma component of the natural vanilla bean extract. It is widely used as a flavouring substance  in vanilla flavours compositions and other sweet flavours.

In order to satisfy the global  demand for this highly favoured flavour, a natural vanillin has been developed that is identifical to that extracted from the limited quantity of vanilla beans that nature provides. The natural vanillin is obtained by the bioconversion of ferulic acid isolated from rice bran, a natural source.


Vanilla Bean Market

Natural vanillin is extracted from the seed pods of vanilla planifolia or vanilla tahitensis. The world production of vanilla beans has shown drastic changes year to year since it is a natural product farmed only in tropical areas.

The quantity and quality of yields can evolve due to bad weather, diseases and speculative stocks management. For instance, in 2004, reduced supply due to tropical storms in Madagascar generated an incredible price increase.

In 2011, only about 50 tonnes of pure vanillin could be extracted from the total annual production of vanilla beans, representing around 0.3 percent of worldwide vanillin demand. Very poor weather conditions in Mexico and India in 2012 also deeply affected the vanilla bean production. Mechanically, in early 2013, prices increased significantly (+50 percent at least compared to 2012).

To fulfill consumer demand for natural flavours, the industry has looked at alternative vanillins, ensuring stable quality, prices and availability.


Bioconversion Of Ferulic Acid

Amongst the various natural vanillins currently found on the market, a focus can be made on vanillin obtained by bioconversion of ferulic acid, which is the only natural vanillin on a global basis.

As a matter of fact, other types of ‘so-called’ natural vanillins cannot be considered natural according to some legislations. For instance, vanillin produced from eugenol, with clove being the original source, is actually produced by the hemisynthesis of eugenol. This involves a chemical step and therefore cannot be fully considered as a traditional and natural process, nor labelled in Europe and the US as ‘natural flavours’.

One of the most intensively studied biotransformations to produce natural vanillin is the conversion of natural ferulic acid, a naturally occuring cinnamic acid. Over a decade ago, a natural vanillin was introduced that was obtained via the bioconversion of ferulic acid  using a wild strain.

Ferulic acid is a naturally occurring phenolic compound, mainly found in rice bran oil. This natural bioconversion process enables the transformation of this ferulic acid, isolated from a natural source, into vanillin. The natural vanillin obtained in such conditions is the same as vanillin present in natural vanilla beans. It displays a strong natural vanillin character, with a soft, sweet and powdery note and a touch of caramel.

This natural vanillin obtained by the bioconversion of natural ferulic acid is a good alternative to the one obtained from vanilla beans, due to the latter’s limited availability and price fluctuations. It is a solution of choice to meet natural flavours market needs, especially for packaged food requiring natural labels.


Natural Status & Regulations

A far as flavouring substances are concerned, regulations in force are Europe’s EC 1334/2008 and the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 21CFR101.22.

According to the European regulations, in order to allow a flavouring substance to be labelled as ‘natural’ in the final product, three conditions must be strictly adhered to:

  • The flavouring substance is naturally present in nature
  • The raw material is natural
  • The process is traditional

Authorised traditional food preparation processes highlighted in Annex II of EC 1334/2008 comprises, among others,  extraction, distillation, fermentation, microbiological processes, heating, cooking, baking, frying (up to 240 deg C at atmospheric pressure) and pressure cooking (up to 120 deg C). Labelling in Europe can therefore be natural flavouring, flavour, or vanilla flavour, for the natural vanillin obtained by bioconverison of ferulic acid.

According to US regulations, to define a flavouring substance as ‘natural’, both the raw material and the process have to be natural. The FDA has established that the fermentation process (or bioconversion) for the production of vanillin can be labelled as natural. Labelling can be vanillin, and vanillin derived by a natural process.

Vanillin obtained from ferulic acid that is isolated from rice is currently the only vanillin recognised as a natural flavour by official organisations such as the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF) in France and the Alcohol and Tobacco, Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) in the US.

In 2003, the French authority DGCCRF issued note n°2003-61 stating that “the only vanillin corresponding to this definition (the EC 88/388 regulation in force at that time) is the one obtained by fermentation from natural ferulic acid isolated from rice.”

In October 2004, this type of vanillin was recognised by the US FDA as “vanillin derived naturally through fermentation.” The TTB stipulates that “only vanillin from fermentation of ferulic acid can be considered as natural and no other.”

This natural vanillin is widely and successfully used in many other natural flavours, especially natural fruity flavours and others such as sweet, creamy, biscuit, vanilla or dairy notes. 

The natural trend is a major trend and driver in  the food industry, and natural vanillin from ferulic acid isolated from rice bran meets the demand of numerous applications, thanks to its wide properties and the consistency of  its high quality.

From ice-creams, beverages, cakes and chocolates to candies, all these applications require the natural vanillin solution to meet the consumers’ growing global demand, and to ensure the same tasty experience in sweet packaged foods.


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  • Last modified on Monday, 14 July 2014 10:53
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