What is Vanillin in Food? Types, Uses, Safe, Side Effects

What is Vanillin in Food? Types, Uses, Safe, Side Effects


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Vanillin, a synthetic vanilla flavor, is a potent scent produced from natural substances. It’s derived from coniferaldehyde, which is extracted from the lignin in wood. The chemical composition of vanillin has immense applications in food and beverages.

Vanillin is a popular additive in the food industry that is extracted from vanilla beans. This ingredient gives foods an added flavor, aroma, and taste. In this article, you will learn a comprehensive overview on vanillin properties, uses in foods and beverages, safety profile, and side effects.

What is vanillin?


Vanillin is a chemical compound that is the main component of natural vanilla extract. It is a phenolic aldehyde, with the molecular formula C8H8O3, and the specific structural formula (CH)4[(CH)3CO]CHO. Vanillin crystals are needle-like and have a pungent aroma.

Vanillin is produced from vanilla beans by extraction with solvents such as ethanol or water, concentration, and crystallization; synthetic methods are also used. The extract contains about 0.1% to 2% vanilla compounds and about 30% ethyl vanillin. The main component of vanilla extract is vanillin (about 80%), which gives it its characteristic smell and taste. Vanillin can also be produced artificially by hydrogenation of lignin-containing feedstocks such as guaiacol or coniferyl alcohol followed by hydrolysis.

Vanillin was first isolated from vanilla pods by French chemist Eugène-Melchior Péligot in 1858, although he called it pyrogallol-pyrocatechin because he mistakenly considered the substance to be a combination of two known compounds: pyrogallol and pyrocatechin. The true chemical structure was determined in 1870 by Marcelin Berthelot who named it vanillin (from vanille, “vanilla”). It has since been synthesized from eugenol, another component of vanilla.

What is vanillin used for?


Vanillin is used as a flavoring agent. It is also used in perfumes and cosmetics.

Vanillin is produced from the beans of the vanilla plant or from lignin, the polymer that gives wood its strength and elasticity.

A large percentage of vanillin comes from lignin, which is made from pulpwood or paper mill waste. This process uses no solvents, but it does require harsh chemicals to separate the vanillin from other products in lignin. Some people consider this process environmentally unsound because it uses crude oil as raw material and produces toxic byproducts that must be disposed of safely.

Vanilla extract contains about 2% vanillin, while synthetic vanillin contains 95% or more of the compound.

Vanillin has a warm, sweet flavor with hints of caramel and fruitiness. It is often combined with other flavors to enhance their taste. For example, it can be combined with cocoa to create chocolate-flavored drinks or desserts such as cookies or cakes

What is vanillin powder?


Vanillin powder is a pure form of vanillin that has been ground into a fine powder and packaged as a dry product.

Vanillin powder is a white to off-white powder with a sweet, creamy odor. It is used as a substitute for vanilla beans in cooking and baking. Vanillin is an organic compound that is found naturally in the sapwood of certain tree species. It can also be produced synthetically from lignin. Vanilla extract is made by steeping vanilla beans in alcohol for several weeks or months. The resulting liquid contains between 35% to 40% alcohol and at least 40% vanillin.

What is vanillin made of?


Vanillin is a chemical compound, a derivative of the more common aroma molecule vanillin, which is the main ingredient of the vanilla bean. Vanillin can be produced synthetically by hydrogenation of lignin-containing waste liquor (liquid product left over from paper pulp production) or by reductive cleavage of natural vanillin. The major source for natural vanillin is from the seeds of tropical orchids (such as vanilla planifolia), which contain about 10% of this glycoside.

Vanillin can be extracted from plant sources such as coniferous trees, especially larch trees (Larix spp.), or from wood pulp waste liquor.

How is vanillin made?


There are three methods of manufacturing vanillin: extraction from vanilla beans, chemical synthesis, and microbiological fermentation.

Natural extraction method


The traditional and oldest method, extracted from vanilla beans (orchid pods), is costly and yields are low.

The main source of vanillin in mature vanilla beans is glucovanillin (vanillin glucoside), which can be hydrolyzed to produce vanillin by β-glucoside hydrolase.


Structure of vanillin glucoside

Natural vanillin can only be produced by this process, and its unique aroma is difficult to replicate by synthetic vanillin.

Chemical synthesis


In the global market, vanillin is mostly manufactured through chemical synthetic methods (about ten methods are available). As raw materials, guaiacol, lignin or eugenol are primarily used to produce vanillin with a high yield.

Here are three of the most commonly used processes.

Guaiacol + glyoxylic acid


Vanillin is synthesized by oxidative decarboxylation and acidification of guaiacol (made from pyrocatechol) under alkaline conditions.

Here is a brief reaction equation:




Eugenol and oxygen are reacted with a strong base and a catalyst to form a vanillin salt, and then the salt is converted to vanillin by reacting with acid. It was developed by Jiaxing Zhonghua Chemical Co., Ltd. in 2014, a top manufacturer in China.

Here is a brief reaction equation:




Lignon is a renewable resource that can be obtained from a variety of sources. This substance is present in high levels in waste wood, straw, and pulp waste liquids, mainly as sodium lignosulfonate.

For the production of vanillin, sodium lignosulfonate is hydrolyzed under alkaline conditions and then subjected to oxidative acidification.

Here is brief reaction equation:


By the way, eugenol is also used to synthesize vanillin. It will be mentioned later in the article.



Eugenol (ex clove oil) and ferulic acid are commonly used as substrates, and microorganisms such as yeasts, fungi, and bacteria are used as production hosts.

Approximately 5% of the world’s production of ferulic acid and eugenol is fermented. Top food and beverage manufacturers prefer it because it has a similar aroma to natural vanillin.

These two sources continue to dominate the global market for vanillin, which is becoming increasingly popular in high-end products.

As of now, there is a demand of 500 to 600 tons per year, mostly from well-known fragrance and flavor companies around the world.

Clove oil


There are a variety of essential oils that contain eugenol naturally. It is rich in clove oil, bay leaf oil, and clove basil oil. In the market, clove oil is mostly used as a raw material to produce eugenol.

Ferulic acid


In nature, There are many phenolic compounds, but ferulic acid is one of the most abundant. A number of crops, including rice bran, wheat bran, corn bran, and sugar beet, contain it in their cell walls.

Solvay’s brief remanufacturing process is as follows:


Similar to vanillin, it requires fewer reactions in bioconversion, which increases the conversion rate. For this reason, ferulic acid is a perfect raw material for fermentation by microorganisms.



Vanilla is an organic compound that tastes and smells like creamy vanilla. Light-sensitive, and gradually oxidizes with the air.

Other namesVanillaldehyde, Vanillic aldehyde, Imitation vanilla
Iupac name4-Hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde
CAS number121-33-5
Chemical formulaC8H8O3
Molecular weight152.15
Melting pointBetween 81°C to 83°C
FEMA number3107
PH value4.3, 10g/L water, 20 °C



Easily soluble in organic solvents, including ethanol, glacial acetic acid, and oils. It is slightly soluble in water (1g/100 mL, 20 °C).

Vanillin Structure



There are four functional groups in this phenolic aldehyde: an aromatic ring, an aldehyde group, a hydroxyl phenolic group, and a methoxy group.

What’s the application of vanillin?


In addition to its use as an ingredient in food products, vanillin is also an important raw material for the production of synthetic vanilla flavors which are used in perfumes, cosmetics, and other personal care products.

It is the most widely used flavor in various foods, toothpastes, perfumes, cosmetics & personal care products, and pharmaceuticals.



Flavoring Agent


There are many sweet foods that use vanillin as a flavoring agent, including the following:

  • Candy
  • Ice cream
  • Pastry
  • Dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Soft drinks, coffee drinks
  • Confectionery
  • Sauces
  • Baby formulas

In addition to flavor and fragrance formulations, vanillin can also be found in the flavors of pineapple, cherry, banana, cocoa, fruit blends, etc.

Since ethyl vanillin has a stronger flavor than vanillin and can last for a long time, it is often used in combination with vanillin.

Masking Agent


In addition to masking bitter flavors from proteins (such as pea protein, and whey protein), it can also mask bitter flavors from high-intensity sweeteners (such as stevia). This makes it suitable for use in sports nutrition and weight management foods.



Vanillin is used in pharmaceuticals to mask unpleasant odors and improve tastes. Masking agents mainly use it.



Cosmetics, perfumes, soap, and toothpaste can all be scented by adding this ingredient.



Rubbers and plastics can also be processed with it.

Is vanillin safe to eat?


Vanillin is generally considered safe for consumption in small amounts. However, it may cause side effects such as headache and diarrhea when consumed in high doses.

In large doses, vanillin can be toxic to animals and humans, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has not established a maximum safe dosage of vanillin for human consumption; however, it does have a suggested limit for animal consumption: 10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg bw/day).



Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) vanillin is a synthetic flavoring substance and adjuvant.



According to Annex I of Regulation (EU) No 1334/2008 (), vanillin (FL-no: 05.018) may be used as a flavoring agent in the EU. In 2008, the EFSA re-evaluated its safety as a favoring agent. As a flavoring substance, EFSA concluded “No safety concerns”.



According to the JECFA, at current levels of intake, it poses no safety concern when used as a flavouring agent. The ADI was set at 0-10 mg/kg BW in 1967 and in safety re-evaluation it was concluded that “No safety concern at current levels of intake.


While vanillin is a pure ingredient, the vanilla extract is a natural product comprised of more than 200 compounds, of which vanillin is the primary component.

Vanilla beans are edible fruits and are the commercial part of the orchid family. Vanilla orchids grow in more than 150 varieties around the world, but only Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis are commercially available.

It is possible to obtain a vanilla extract from the vanilla pod by extracting it with a solvent (usually ethanol). No artificial flavor or aroma can replace its unique aroma.

Vanillin market


Due to the development of the food industry, vanillin’s global annual demand may still increase.

Its applications are as follows: 60% as a food additive, 30% as a flavor & fragrance and cosmetics additive, 5% as a pharmaceutical ingredient, and the rest as a feed ingredient.

Low output of natural vanillin


It is mainly Madagascar, Indonesia, and Comoros that produce vanilla beans in the world. Around 2000 MT are produced each year.

It is difficult to increase the production of vanilla due to the limited planting area, labor-intensive cultivation, artificial pollination, harvesting, extraction, and purification, as well as the climate and other factors.

Vanilla pods contain vanillin in the form of free molecules or combined with glucosides. The content of cured vanilla pods is approximately 1%–2% w/w. This means that there are only about 20-40 MT of natural vanillin available per year. The number represents only 0.1-2% of the world’s total production.

Natural vanillin is extremely expensive, and it can cost 300 times more than synthetic vanillin. This is why chemically synthesized and biosynthesized vanillin has been introduced to the market in its place.

The disadvantages of synthetic vanillin


Because of its high price, natural vanillin is only used in a small number of applications and is mainly substituted by chemical synthetic vanillin.

Despite having the creamy scent of vanilla extract, the synthetic vanillin cannot compare with the natural one in terms of aroma, although it does have a strong creamy flavor. In addition, the manufacturing process is easy to pollute the environment.

In many countries, however, supervision of artificial food additives has been strengthened, and people’s awareness of food safety has increased, leading to an increase in demand for natural vanillin.

Promising biosynthesis vanillin


The microbiological methods use eugenol (ex Clove oil) and ferulic acid, which have the advantages of higher conversion rates, environmental friendliness, and safety.

According to FDA and EU regulations for natural flavors, such biologically produced vanillin is also considered natural vanillin

What are the possible side effects of vanillin?


Vanillin is a naturally occurring compound that is found in vanilla beans. It is used to make vanillin sugar, which is popular in baking.

Vanillin can cause some side effects. These side effects may include:

Mouth sores, dry mouth, and bad taste. These can happen if you take too much vanillin or if you use it for a long time.

Changes in your sense of taste (dysgeusia), especially after taking large amounts of vanillin.

Headache, dizziness, tiredness, nausea (feeling sick), vomiting (throwing up), indigestion (acid reflux), constipation (hard stool). These are common side effects of any type of medicine used to treat cancer.

Where to buy vanillin?


Vanillin is available at any grocery store or online from Amazon or eBay. If you want to buy from a local retailer, look for “vanillin powder” or “vanillin crystals” on your local grocery store shelves.

if you want to purchase in large quantities, you can consider buying from Grade Chemical, which is one reliable vanillin manufacturer&supplier in China. for their price is much more competitive than your local market.

Frequently asked questions


Is vanillin natural?


Vanillin is a chemical compound that is naturally produced by the clove plant. It’s also synthetically produced in labs and used as an additive to products like vanilla extract and perfumes. The answer to your question is yes, vanillin is natural because it’s produced by the clove plant.


Yes, vanillin is an artificial sweetener.

Vanillin is a synthetic compound that gives vanilla its distinct aroma and flavor. The compound is created by combining lignin with acetone and sulfuryl chloride and then adding heat to the mixture.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that vanillin is safe for use in food products. The FDA has not determined whether vanillin is safe for use as an additive in drugs or other products.

There are no known health risks associated with consuming vanillin at the levels found in foods or beverages.

Is vanillin Halal and Kosher?


Yes, Vanillin, the main ingredient in vanilla extract, is a compound derived from the vanilla bean. It is used as a flavoring for foods, beverages, and tobacco products. Vanillin can be made from different sources of lignin, including wood pulp and paper mill waste.

Vanillin is Halal if it is made from non-animal material like wood pulp or paper mill waste. It is also Halal if it is extracted from the seeds of vanilla beans using ethanol or non-alcoholic solvents such as water or glycerin.

Is vanillin Gluten free?


Yes, vanillin is gluten-free. Vanillin is a flavor that comes from the vanilla plant and is used in many foods and beverages. It’s often used to enhance the taste of desserts and baked goods, as well as tobacco products. Vanillin can also be found in some alcohol and medications.

Is vanillin Vegan?


Yes, vanillin is vegan. Vanillin is a chemical compound that’s most commonly used as a flavoring in foods and beverages. The name vanillin comes from the Latin word for vanilla, which is where the compound was first isolated from. Most vanillin is available commercially today is made from lignin—a byproduct of wood pulp production—and not from vanilla beans.



Understanding what Vanillin is and what it does to food is essential in order to evaluate whether it could be harmful to you or your family or not. That determines if you would be wise to avoid it or use it. This article discusses its history, how it’s made, why and how it’s used in various food products, the positives and negatives of this preservative, and its potential health dangers.

If you have any questions or comments about this additive, feel free to let us know in the below comments.

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng is the author of gradechemical.com, she is the co-founder of the grade chemical network. She has been in grade chemical company since 2017, with a working knowledge of food chemical .

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