If you thought chocolate was the world’s favorite flavor, you’d be wrong. It appears that vanilla wins hands down. The surprise revelation according to some scientists, is that we get our initial attraction to it before birth from our mothers. Breast milk and amniotic fluid are filled with the scent of vanilla. Who knew? It could be worse, we could have inherited the love of pickle flavor.
We can no longer call it plain vanilla. It’s the x-factor in most fragrances, conjuring feelings of cravings, warmth and familiarity. Other scent friends come ad go, but not vanilla. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to use the bottle of vanilla for perfume when your mother was baking a cake? I certainly did.
In the perfume industry the person who creates all those delicious smelling scents is called a “nose”. They can differentiate each fragrance much like a snobby French waiter can tell you what curious components are in that $60 bottle of wine you just ordered.
Some vanilla beans come from small farms in Madagascar that takes three years to grow and must be pollinated by hand within 24 hours of a blossom appearing. “This is a vanilla like you’ve never experienced” says Camille McDonald, president of brand development at Bath and Body Works. At $2,200 per kilogram, this vanilla is also the most expensive raw material the company has ever used in a fragrance, she says. The vanilla ingredient is used not only in perfumes, but in bath oil, body cream, etc. Proctor and Gamble introduced Downy fabric softener scented with vanilla in 2004, which led to vanilla fragrances in detergent, dryer sheets and dish soap. I will certainly be more prudent when splashing myself after a shower from now on.
Vanilla’s natural pollinator is the melipona bee found in the crop’s native Mexico. In the 1800’s, advances in hand pollination techniques allowed vanilla to be more widely grown in tropical climates, including Madagascar, Uganda, Indonesia and India.
Vanilla is part of the orchid family and there are many varieties, each producing a slightly different characteristic. It’s growing conditions and processing methods determine its versatility, making it a popular tool.
Vanilla milestones in the perfume business apparently started with the creation of “Jicky” by Guerlain in 1889, and continued on to Guerlain’s “Shalimar” in 1925. I have a special memory of “Shalimar”, because it was my grandmother’s favorite perfume and came in an incredibly beautiful bottle. When I was a Junior in High School, a boy I liked worked at the local grocery store. I had been walking past the produce department daily trying to get his attention for a month or so, when he finally succumbed to my nubile charms and invited me to a movie. I doused myself liberally with “Shalimar” and we hopped on the bus to Oakland. He never asked me out again, but I still have my grandmother’s bottle of “Shalimar” as a lesson not to be repeated.