Vanilla

Vanilla doesn’t just smell sweet, nuzzleable and delectably comforting:  it’s kind of magic, in flavour and perfume terms. When we smell or taste anything, our ‘receptors’ constantly wipe those fleeting encounters to prepare for the next flavour or a smell.  But when vanilla is added to food or fragrance, naturally-present vanillin (and other vanilloids, which we’ll talk about in a moment) work to ‘hold open’ our vanilloid receptors, slowing down this wiping process – which in turn gives us more time to perceive, experience and enjoy both scents and flavours. (Vanilloids are also found in cocoa, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and hot peppers – which partly explains why they’re all such ‘taste sensations’.)

Vanilla comes from the seeds of a dried pod from a climbing orchid-like plant which flourishes especially well in Madagascar;  the very best quality of vanilla comes from the Île Bourbon, now known as Réunion. It gets its name from the Spanish word ‘vaina’ (meaning sheath or pod, and translates simply as ‘little pod’.  (Strangely, the flower itself is scent-less.)

Perhaps because vanilla is the second priciest spice in the world, after saffron, the vanilla you smell in many perfumes today is synthetic vanillin:  clever chemists have worked to mimic the real thing – although the most gifted noses will probably tell you that real vanilla is earthier, with touches of treacle and a touch of ‘booziness’.

We love this legend about vanilla which we found on the excellent Perfume Shrine blog. ‘According to the Australian Orchid Society, “Old Totonac lore has it that Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness – that plant was the Vanilla vine. This reputation was much enhanced in 1762 when a German study found that a medication based on vanilla extract cured impotence — all 342 smiling subjects claimed they were cured.”’

Vanilla’s reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac endures, and it’s often present in ‘sexy’, come-hither fragrances, especially Orientals and gourmand fragrances, as well as ‘girly’, ‘younger’ creations.  And it’s probably one of the most easily-recognised perfume ingredients of all…

Smell vanilla in:

Dior Addict
Dior Hypnotic Poison
Guerlain Shalimar
Guerlain Spirituelle Double Vanille
L’Aritsan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument
Mono di Orio Les Nombres d’Or Vanille
Patricia de Nicolaï Vanilla Tonka
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille

Read The Perfume Candy Boy’s Guide to Vanillahere

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