Vanilla Planifolia

Vanilla Planifolia

Until we discovered our current true vanilla extract, we had almost resigned ourselves to excluding Vanilla from our fragrance range. Organic extracts that we had previously experimented with were dispersed in an alcohol base which left behind an unpleasant scent on the skin. We were also concerned that it may cause skin dryness and be an irritant for some people. 

After a long search, however, we found a supplier for certified Organic Madagascan Vanilla CO2 Extract and were overwhelmed by the difference in quality - both in purity of aroma and gentle emollience on the skin.

Whilst it was an expensive extract, it nevertheless became a very precious and luxurious addition to many of our products - although its inclusion incurred a slightly higher price on those products. 

Pleased by the aroma and its gentle skin properties we developed two blends: Warm Honey & Vanilla Bean and Sweet Orange & Warm Vanilla. We crafted several products to carry these organic blends including a cream deodorant; rapadura sugar body scrubs; bath teas and body silk moisturisers. 

Sadly, however, it became increasingly clear that our Madagascan certified organic extract was becoming so rare and expensive that we could no longer offer it at an affordable price within our bath and body scrub products. 

We currently have a limited supply of our extract and so have reluctantly decided, therefore, not to continue to include it within products which use a lot more, such as the Cream Deodorants, Sugar Body Scrubs and Bath Teas. We still have some Sugar Scrubs, particularly in Sweet Orange & Warm Vanilla but when they have sold, we won’t be making any more in the forseeable future. (So you might want to get them while you can! View scrubs here

We have therefore decided to restrict the inclusion of our current stock of vanilla extract to our Lip Balms and hand / body moisturising silks.  We will be keeping our popular Warm Vanilla Lip Balm whilst also will be launching a new one: ‘Lemon Vanilla.’ 

Some customers may not be aware of the enormous difficulties that Vanilla Producers and Buyers have been facing over the last couple of years, and so we have written a summary here based on some information kindly offered to us, towards the end of 2016, by our supplier Sakina Jodiyawalla  from Vanilla Bazaar

The vanilla trade has hit yet another crisis with exorbitant prices soaring rapidly out of control. In earlier years, 2002 - 2004, this boom was followed by crashing prices, but in 2016 prices remained unfeasibly high with no clear sign of falling as hoped. Suppliers have been perplexed not knowing whether to buy beans at the higher prices and risk a sudden price crash or wait for prices to stabilise. In the meantime, however, high quality vanilla was becoming more scarce.  

Alongside this surge in price, some farmers, fearful of prices crashing and even crop theft, resorted to shortening the curing process and then vacuum packing their beans which together runs a high risk of diminishing the vanillin content along with its much sought after sweet aroma; the reward for the laborious process of hand-curing vanilla pods. This traditional curing process, providing work for thousands living in Madagascar, has also been shunned by some exporters who, wanting to cash in on high prices, have employed alternative methods to rapidly cure beans; leading also to an inferior quality of vanilla being marketed at unreasonably high prices.    

Leading in to 2017, suppliers are very tentative, waiting to find out whether the Madagascan vanilla crop will be sizeable and watchful of prices to see whether they will begin to stabilize or follow the former cycle and crash. 

For Nooma Organics, what happens next will greatly affect whether we will be in a position to replace our dwindling stock.

Our Certified Organic Madagascan Vanilla extract is currently unavailable since the market price has rocketed to an extortionate amount and so is not financially viable as an ingredient. We will therefore be waiting to see what may happen to the prices whilst also mindful of the important issue of quality which may affect certain batches. 

For those interested to read more widely on the subject, a Vanilla Market Report from 2016 can be viewed here at which covers those issues raised above alongside offering more specific details. 


Background information on Madagascan Vanilla (or Bourbon Vanilla)

Vanilla planifolia (synonyms Vanilla fragrans) is a species of vanilla orchid, indigenous to Mexico but now grown widely beyond central America and the Caribbean islands, to Indonesia and the Philippines. Perhaps the world’s largest exporter of these fine vanilla pods, however, is Madagascar - one of the renowned ‘Bourbon islands,’ hence the familiar term “Bourbon Vanilla”  - an interchangeable name with Madagascan Vanilla.              

Of the 150 varieties of vanilla orchids, only two are used commercially for their high Vanillin content: Bourbon (Vanilla Planifolia - same species grown in Mexico although often referred to as “Mexican Beans” ) and Tahitan Vanilla which offers a slightly different aroma and has become its  own species. Vanilla planifolia is a climbing tropical orchid, reaching up to 30 metres tall. At a manageable height, producers bend the plants to grow downwards, in order to make the fruits more accessible to harvest.                                                              

Vanilla orchid flowers open only once for several hours and unless pollinated that day, will close up and drop to the ground, producing no fruit. In Mexico, these flowers are naturally pollinated by the native Melipone bee, and possibly humming birds, but outside Mexico the only successful way discovered to pollinate these orchids to produce fruit, is by a skilled and laborious process of hand pollinating every single flower! Growers have to be vigilant and check early each morning for new flowers.

Vanilla is reputed to be the second most expensive spice to saffron yet the most labour intensive agricultural plant to grow.                                                                                                                                                                                            

A plant will take three years to mature before producing edible fruit and a further 9 months for it then to ripen enough for harvest. 

The fruit - commonly called ‘beans’, which resemble rounded runner beans - are green seed pods reaching up to 25cm in length and contain millions of tiny black seeds.

After harvesting, they undergo several stages of simple non-chemical processing to stunt the growth enzymes and then finally to cure - where they are placed daily in sunshine to dry out for several weeks. It is during this lengthy curing process that the ‘beans’ develop their distinctive aroma and turn dark brown / black; freshly harvested vanilla pods have no scent.               

The characteristic vanilla fragrance is created naturally with a complex array of more than 200 constituents; vanillin being the main one. Due to the very high cost of quality pure vanilla extract, cosmetic companies have sought to reproduce this scent synthetically - perhaps using eugenol (clove oil), waste paper pulp, coal tar and coumarin. It has been proposed that over 95% of all vanilla scented products available today are actually synthetic. Unscrupulous manufacturers have been known to ‘pass off’ synthetic reproductions as genuine extract. 

Happily, at Nooma Organics, we are proud to state that we are among the few 5% who have only used genuine organic vanilla in all its various forms: CO2 extract, crushed vanilla bean power and chopped beans and would never use artificial vanilla fragrance.

A low quality synthetic vanilla fragrance is often pungent; trailing behind the wearer leaving a heady, sometimes sickly-sweet lingering scent! By contrast, a pure vanilla extract offers a rather more delicate, comforting and rounded exotic scent; a rich, sweet-warm aroma believed to offer a sense of well-being - and said to be an aphrodisiac for some. Yet perhaps more importantly, where synthetic fragrance oils often contain many known allergens, termed ‘parfum’ on the ingredients list, vanilla extract has no currently known contraindications making it ideal for those with sensitive skin. 

(For info on Parfum, please scroll through our 'Ingredients that we Never Use' - click here.)  

Some aromatherapists have suggested that Vanilla extract holds little value in aromatherapy whilst others indicate that it is a beneficial stress reliever, helping to reduce anxiety and depression.

The main constituent Vanillin - a phenolic compound - has been well researched, however, and has demonstrated that it may be useful as a therapeutic agent in a range of health issues:

“A large body of evidence suggests that vanillin exhibits potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-fungal properties” (Lee et al, 2012). This range of activity has also been acknowledged by Dhanalakshmi et al (2015) who also describe vanillin having “anti-carcinogenic actions.”

Furthermore, their specific research findings suggest promising neuroprotective benefits:

“Thus, vanillin may serve as a potent therapeutic agent in the future by virtue of its multiple pharmacological properties in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease.”

Returning to specific actives which may benefit the skin, research appears to consistently highlight the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of vanillin - yet research specifically evaluating the actives within the complete Vanilla CO2 extract, seems impossible to find. (Please email details of any known research articles!)

That said, anecdotally, we have noticed that our products which contain Vanilla extract are gentle and emollient; suitable for sensitive skin which may be prone to dermatitis or eczema - and in particular, those simply blended with organic raw honey. 



Two Vanilla orchid flower images:  both by H. Zell 2009, Wikimedia Commons. 

Top green Vanilla Beans: Sunil Elias 2003, Wikimedia Commons 

Green Vanilla beans - tattooed initials: B. Navez 2009, Wikimedia Commons 

Cured 6 Beans: B. Navez 2005, Wikimedia Commons 

Research Articles:

Choo J.H et al 2006: 'Inhibition of bacterial quorum sensing by vanilla extract' - Wiley online library - click here

Dhanalakshmi C et al 2015:  'Neurosupportive Role of Vanillin, a Natural Phenolic Compound, on Rotenone Induced Neurotoxicity in SH-SY5Y Neuroblastoma Cells,' Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 626028, 11 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/626028 - click here

Lee et al (2012): 'Reduction of Inflammatory Responses and Enhancement Vanillin-Incorporated Poly(Lactic-co-Glycolic Acid) Scaffolds', Tissue Eng Part A. 2012 Oct; 18(19-20): 1967–1978. 2012 - click here

Takahashi M et al (2013) "Key Odorants in Cured Madagascar Vanilla Beans (Vanilla planiforia) of Differing Bean Quality", Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 77:3, 606-611, DOI: 10.1271/bbb.120842 - click here

Shyamala B.N. et al 2007: 'Studies on the antioxidant activities of natural vanilla extract and its constituent compounds through in vitro models'. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2007 Sep 19;55(19):7738-43. Epub 2007 Aug 24. - click here

Websites: - 'The Story Behind Vanilla' - click here - 'The Heath Benefits of Vanilla' - click here

rethinking - Spice of the month: Vanilla - click here - 'What are the health benefits of vanilla extract?' click here - 'Vanilla' - click here

 'Vanilla Facts' - - click here


Article written by © Na Smyth Jan 2017 for Nooma Blog @ Nooma Organics Natural Skincare 


Leave a Reply

* Name:
* E-mail: (Not Published)
   Website: (Site url withhttp://)
* Comment:
Type Code