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Old 01-07-2019, 12:23 AM
tofor tofor is offline
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I Want to Make Fake Vanilla

I was fascinated to learn that imitation vanilla flavor is frequently made from waste wood pulp from paper making. I was intrigued, and tried to find out if I could make my own vanillin from the sawdust out in my woodshed. The internet failed me, and all I could find were complaints that such a thing would be done, and directions for soaking vanilla beans in vodka. So what say you all? Is this a trade secret? Is there a recipe I simply couldn't find? Help me, O' Wise Millions.
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:54 AM
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Hmmm? That's a hard one. I assume regular sawdust won't do. It must be sawdust from a vanilla tree, if there is such a thing. Or bark at least. Good luck on your search. I need to tell you fake vanilla is cheap as dirt. Not really seeing the need, I guess.
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:37 AM
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Well, the general synthesis is well-known and published. There is something that might give you more guidance in The Journal of Chemical Education. That said, I don't think you're going to do it in your garage unless you can handle 10-12 atm of pressure at 160-170 C for just the first step. Then after that you need toluene, sodium hydroxide, hydrogen sulfite, and sulfur dioxide at the least. And all that is after you've done the initial pulping and fermentation process. Could I do it in the lab? Probably, but if I needed more vanillin (I use it as a TLC stain) I'd just order it from Aldrich.

Nobody does it that way anymore anyway. These days, it starts from 2-methoxyphenol in an electroaromatic substitution with glyoxylic acid, followed by oxidative decarboxylation.
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:44 AM
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I assume regular sawdust won't do. It must be sawdust from a vanilla tree, if there is such a thing.
Nope. Oak (or any wood) works, or coal tar, or supposedly even manure: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-...b0d0b7e1666da3 I don't think it's a household project, but it's been done since 1858, so it's not like it's going to take ultramodern equipment: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-...la-made-2016-5
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:48 AM
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Ho-ly crap. There is such a thing. Who knew? Plus, I will never use fake vanilla again, that's just gross.
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Old 01-07-2019, 02:55 AM
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Huh. I knew synthetic vanilla is often described as "a by-product of the paper industry" but never knew the details. Neat.
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Old 01-07-2019, 03:10 AM
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Makes a person wonder why paper mills smell so bad. They could have scented up the town with fake vanilla.
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Old 01-07-2019, 08:52 AM
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Ho-ly crap. There is such a thing. Who knew? Plus, I will never use fake vanilla again, that's just gross.
Well, if you think that's bad, it's probably for the best that you don't look up the method that uses castoreum, which is harvested from beaver anal glands.
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Old 01-07-2019, 09:26 AM
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Ho-ly crap. There is such a thing. Who knew? Plus, I will never use fake vanilla again, that's just gross.
Meh. It's just a chemical process that uses wood pulp as a starting point. How is that grosser than mixing soil and animal feces and sticking seed in the mix? Or slicing up dead animals and munching on the various bits? Or taking those bits and infusing them with carcinogens by taking wood chips and burning them for smoke instead of using them in vanilin production?
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Old 01-07-2019, 10:55 AM
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Ho-ly crap. There is such a thing. Who knew? Plus, I will never use fake vanilla again, that's just gross.
You may not have a choice. Vanilla is very difficult to grow, pollinate by hand, harvest by hand, and sun-dry. It's also susceptible to many diseases. Accordingly, the price of vanilla has skyrocketed in the past few years. A 4 oz. bottle of Madagascar now runs over $30, making it second only to saffron as the most expensive spice.
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Old 01-07-2019, 11:37 AM
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As I said, today's commercial production of vanillin no longer uses wood as a source but begins with 2-methoxyphenol, which is mostly petrochemically derived starting from phenol. Either way, a molecule's a molecule no matter how it was synthesized and the only question is one of purity.
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Old 01-07-2019, 11:42 AM
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You may not have a choice. Vanilla is very difficult to grow, pollinate by hand, harvest by hand, and sun-dry. It's also susceptible to many diseases. Accordingly, the price of vanilla has skyrocketed in the past few years. A 4 oz. bottle of Madagascar now runs over $30, making it second only to saffron as the most expensive spice.
Oh, wow. That explains it. I had a16 oz oz bottle from Costco of pure vanillaextract that I finally used up that I must have bought around 5 years ago. I went to Costco to restock and it was something like $35 or so. I was really confused, as I thought there was no way in hell I would have spent that much money on a bottle of vanilla. Ten to fifteen bucks tops. So it really has jumped up in price over the years and is just crazy expensive everywhere now, huh.

Last edited by pulykamell; 01-07-2019 at 11:43 AM.
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Old 01-07-2019, 11:47 AM
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You may not have a choice. Vanilla is very difficult to grow, pollinate by hand, harvest by hand, and sun-dry. It's also susceptible to many diseases. Accordingly, the price of vanilla has skyrocketed in the past few years. A 4 oz. bottle of Madagascar now runs over $30, making it second only to saffron as the most expensive spice.
From what I have read, there are two major drivers-

One, a cyclone hit Madagascar (source of 80% of the world's vanilla) in 2017 (Enawo), and destroyed 1/3 of its production. Since it takes 3 years or more for a vanilla orchid to produce pods, we're looking at another year or two until the production is back up to its prior levels.

Combine this with an ongoing market desire for "natural" products, and there is higher demand for real vanilla instead of the synthetic, lignin-derived vanillin that was more popular before.
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Old 01-07-2019, 11:17 PM
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Thank you all for your insights. My quest was driven primarily by my desire to make all kinds of food items myself. I currently have some vanilla beans soaking in vodka, but as has been noted the beans are scarily expensive. If, as I have read, the chemical called vanillin is actually the dominant chemical I am leaching out of those vanilla beans and I could get the same thing from a hunk of wood somehow, unlike Beckdawrek, I would like to do that.

Too bad it seems so prohibitive. Thanks asterion, for the link. Do you know what kinds of purity standards commercial vanillin might be subjected to? What sort of contaminants might be in it?
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Old 01-08-2019, 12:01 AM
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Meh. It's just a chemical process that uses wood pulp as a starting point. How is that grosser than mixing soil and animal feces and sticking seed in the mix? Or slicing up dead animals and munching on the various bits? Or taking those bits and infusing them with carcinogens by taking wood chips and burning them for smoke instead of using them in vanilin production?
Stop it. Do you WANT me to starve to death, or something. Aaaaaccckkk!
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:33 AM
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Stop it. Do you WANT me to starve to death, or something. Aaaaaccckkk!
At least there was no mention of curdling milk, riddling it with bacteria and mold and letting it sit for months or even years before eating.

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Old 01-08-2019, 06:53 AM
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Anyone can make vanilla.

You need a jar filled with 70 proof vodka. Split a handful of vanilla pods lengthwise. Soak in the vodka for 6 to 8 weeks. Be sure the entire bean is covered by alcohol. Shake a couple times a week. Remove beans afterwards.

My grandmother did a lot of baking for the church and Eastern Star. She always had a mason jar of vanilla on her countertop.

Last edited by aceplace57; 01-08-2019 at 06:56 AM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:53 AM
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Anyone can make vanilla.

You need a jar filled with 70 proof vodka. Split a handful of vanilla pods lengthwise. Soak in the vodka for 6 to 8 weeks. Be sure the entire bean is covered by alcohol. Shake a couple times a week. Remove beans afterwards.

My grandmother did a lot of baking for the church and Eastern Star. She always had a mason jar of vanilla on her countertop.
Way to read the thread, Betty Crocker. Of course, what you've made there is real vanilla extract, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what the OP wants to do.
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Old 01-08-2019, 11:48 AM
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Way to read the thread, Betty Crocker. Of course, what you've made there is real vanilla extract, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what the OP wants to do.
Not only that, the OP specifically mentions they don't want recipes with vanilla soaked in vodka. It's not exactly a long OP:

Quote:
I Want to Make Fake Vanilla [...] The internet failed me, and all I could find were complaints that such a thing would be done, and directions for soaking vanilla beans in vodka.
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Old 01-08-2019, 12:26 PM
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Next time you're in the middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada in California, stick your nose in the bark of a Jeffrey pine. Smells exactly like vanilla.
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Old 01-08-2019, 12:30 PM
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Anyone can make vanilla.

You need a jar filled with 70 proof vodka. Split a handful of vanilla pods lengthwise. Soak in the vodka for 6 to 8 weeks. Be sure the entire bean is covered by alcohol. Shake a couple times a week. Remove beans afterwards.

My grandmother did a lot of baking for the church and Eastern Star. She always had a mason jar of vanilla on her countertop.
Anyone can make vanilla. They just need to start with some vanilla.
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Old 01-08-2019, 12:31 PM
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These days, it starts from 2-methoxyphenol in an electroaromatic substitution with glyoxylic acid, followed by oxidative decarboxylation.
Hey, that's my grandmother's secret recipe!
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Old 01-08-2019, 12:35 PM
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The thread had gotten a little long and no one had pointed out how easy it is to make vanilla extract. I wouldn't have said anything if it took more than a couple steps.

You'd need a chemistry teacher & lab to make the artificial stuff.

I'm sure any college student that completed a few chemistry classes could make it too.

Last edited by aceplace57; 01-08-2019 at 12:38 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 01:00 PM
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The thread had gotten a little long and no one had pointed out how easy it is to make vanilla extract. I wouldn't have said anything if it took more than a couple steps.
Yeahbut-- He said he didn't want the vanilla in alcohol recipe in the second sentence of his OP.
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Old 01-08-2019, 02:16 PM
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Yeahbut-- He said he didn't want the vanilla in alcohol recipe in the second sentence of his OP.
And in the OPs second post (post 14), he said he is currently soaking vanilla beans in vodka as well.
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Old 01-08-2019, 03:41 PM
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The thread had gotten a little long and no one had pointed out how easy it is to make vanilla extract.
Yes, because that was not what the OP asked about. In fact they stated in the OP that they asked this question here because all the google results where for making vanilla extract, which wasn't what they wanted to do.
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Old 01-08-2019, 03:44 PM
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Stop it. Do you WANT me to starve to death, or something. Aaaaaccckkk!
There's always hydroponic vegetables. I suggest you give them a go. Not that I just bought a lot of stock in that industry or anything ...
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:41 PM
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Oh, wow. That explains it. I had a16 oz oz bottle from Costco of pure vanillaextract that I finally used up that I must have bought around 5 years ago. I went to Costco to restock and it was something like $35 or so. I was really confused, as I thought there was no way in hell I would have spent that much money on a bottle of vanilla. Ten to fifteen bucks tops. So it really has jumped up in price over the years and is just crazy expensive everywhere now, huh.
When did you get your replacement bottle? $35 will barely buy 4 oz. of good vanilla nowadays, so I would be very suspicious of 16 oz. for that price. There have been instances of Mexican vanilla being cut with the crap noted above, so I only buy Madagascar.
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Old 01-08-2019, 04:52 PM
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When did you get your replacement bottle? $35 will barely buy 4 oz. of good vanilla nowadays, so I would be very suspicious of 16 oz. for that price. There have been instances of Mexican vanilla being cut with the crap noted above, so I only buy Madagascar.
Like crap or crap as in 'shit'? Y'all seriously don't like for me to eat. This thread has gone to the crapper, for reals.
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Old 01-08-2019, 05:10 PM
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Since this thread has strayed in the direction of comparing various vanilla/vanillin products in price, I'll just note that vanilla beans can be bought in relatively inexpensive quantities compared to vanilla extract and used (in a very simple home preparation) to make vanilla sugar, which can be substituted for vanilla extract.

One vanilla bean makes about 2 cups of vanilla sugar which is used in a 3:2 ratio in place of vanilla extract; i.e., it's equivalent to about one-and-a-third cups of extract. Considering that a pack of 5 vanilla beans can be purchased for about twenty bucks, that's not a bad deal.
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Old 01-08-2019, 05:29 PM
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Thank you all for your insights. My quest was driven primarily by my desire to make all kinds of food items myself. I currently have some vanilla beans soaking in vodka, but as has been noted the beans are scarily expensive. If, as I have read, the chemical called vanillin is actually the dominant chemical I am leaching out of those vanilla beans and I could get the same thing from a hunk of wood somehow, unlike Beckdawrek, I would like to do that.

Too bad it seems so prohibitive. Thanks asterion, for the link. Do you know what kinds of purity standards commercial vanillin might be subjected to? What sort of contaminants might be in it?
As a quick look, Aldrich sells a synthetic food grade, certified halal, certified kosher, meeting the purity specs of the JECFA. Purity spec on Aldrich's spec sheet by GC is 97%. I believe it's generally recrystallized for its final purification. Impurities are most likely to include the last couple of intermediates, so most likely vanillylmandelic acid and 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenylglyoxylic acid. The recrys solvent is probably along the lines of a USP class 3 solvent (this is a pharma guidance and not necessarily a food spec) and my first guesses would be water, ethanol, or perhaps 2-butanone.

Remember that vanilla extract is actually going to be less pure than the synthetic.

You can get a kilo of the stuff (it's a solid, by the way) for $66.
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Old 01-08-2019, 05:29 PM
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When did you get your replacement bottle? $35 will barely buy 4 oz. of good vanilla nowadays, so I would be very suspicious of 16 oz. for that price. There have been instances of Mexican vanilla being cut with the crap noted above, so I only buy Madagascar.
Funny enough, I just got back from Costco, and happened to double check the vanilla prices. The Kirkland vanilla was $34.95 for a 16 oz bottle. It is this one. The ingredients are "vanilla bean extractives in water" and 35% alcohol. There's no indication of the source of the beans, other than they are "imported vanilla beans" extracted and bottled in the US. I'm no vanilla expert, but it was suitable for my purposes.

Last edited by pulykamell; 01-08-2019 at 05:32 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 05:38 PM
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Oh, and I guess technically it isn't marketed under the "Kirkland" brandname. It has no brand name on the labeling. The old bottle I had did. There's a little Reddit thread here where a poster states it's not marketed as "Kirkland" anymore, because it didn't meet Costco's standards. I don't know if it does or not, but back when it was $10 a bottle and branded as Kirkland, I thought it was really good. I'm not about to spend $35 to compare, though.
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Old 01-08-2019, 05:48 PM
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Oh, and I guess technically it isn't marketed under the "Kirkland" brandname. It has no brand name on the labeling. The old bottle I had did. There's a little Reddit thread here where a poster states it's not marketed as "Kirkland" anymore, because it didn't meet Costco's standards. I don't know if it does or not, but back when it was $10 a bottle and branded as Kirkland, I thought it was really good. I'm not about to spend $35 to compare, though.
The Kirkland label change is likely just due to the vanilla extract not currently being a good value, thanks to the price hikes.
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:09 PM
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I'm a bit puzzled by the prices referenced here. I found this link which gives prices of $19.99 and $10.99 for around 4 oz (118 ml)of Nielsen Massey Pure Vanilla Extract. Meanwhile in the UK it's around 10 for 4 oz of the same product or here we have Sainsburys own brand 1.50 for 38 mls.

Am I missing something or are the grocery stores in the US ripping you off?

Edited to add that Nigella Lawson reckons you can use the same pod for vanilla sugar for several years which must be the most economical way

Last edited by Springtime for Spacers; 01-08-2019 at 06:12 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:20 PM
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I just looked in my pantry. I have a nearly full bottle of McCormick pure vanilla extract and a small bottle of Watkins vanilla extract, never opened( don't remember buying that, it has a sticker price on it $9.99) and largish bottle of white vanillin. It has petroleum-type ingredients listed, price sticker says $5.99. I know I bought the white vanillin for some cookies that called for it. It actually smells more like almonds than vanillin. Hmmm? Interesting.

Last edited by Beckdawrek; 01-08-2019 at 06:21 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 07:10 PM
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or here we have Sainsburys own brand 1.50 for 38 mls.
Read the reviews of the Sainsburys brand vanilla.
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Old 01-08-2019, 07:41 PM
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I was fascinated to learn that imitation vanilla flavor is frequently made from waste wood pulp from paper making. I was intrigued, and tried to find out if I could make my own vanillin from the sawdust out in my woodshed. The internet failed me, and all I could find were complaints that such a thing would be done, and directions for soaking vanilla beans in vodka. So what say you all? Is this a trade secret? Is there a recipe I simply couldn't find? Help me, O' Wise Millions.
Okay, I didn't download it but this article describes how a high school class was able to produce vanillin from sawdust. I figure that means the technology can't be that high-level.

https://www.researchgate.net/publica...ol_and_sawdust
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:06 PM
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Thanks Little Nemo, I've requested the paper, but I'm pretty sure that's second-year college students, not highschool. Still likely far outside the skills of the home cook.

asterian, I appreciate the chemical analysis. Thank you.

Kimstu, how is the vanilla sugar a benefit over a liquid extraction?
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:23 PM
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Okay, I didn't download it but this article describes how a high school class was able to produce vanillin from sawdust. I figure that means the technology can't be that high-level.

https://www.researchgate.net/publica...ol_and_sawdust
Luckily for you, this is exactly the sort of thing I'm supposed to use my ACS member access benefits for. If I've got this right, the procedure is basically:

Take softwood sawdust, add to a heated solution of sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, dimethyl sulfoxide, and water, and add nitrobenzene. Reflux for several hours, cool, acidify, and filter off solids. Extract with ether and let stand, decant/filter the solution from resulting solids, and extract from the ether with sodium bisulfite solution. Filter and decompose the filtrate with sulfuric acid, followed by heating while bubbling air to remove the sulfur dioxide. Extract the aqueous with more ether, dry chemically, and remove the ether (they use a steam bath) giving an oil. Extract the oil with hot cyclohexane and decant off the solvent. Evaporate the solvent under reduced pressure and partially redissolve the residue in more hot cyclohexane. Decant the solvent, cool the solvent, and collect the recrystallized product. Sublime if you want it really pure.

Their procedure turned 15 g of sawdust into 32 mg of vanillin before sublimation. The procedure looks to be tedious on a lab scale and I'd never want to run it on a process scale without major changes, although I'm sure there are expired patents out there for large scale production.

So, if you can get your hands on sodium hydroxide, DMSO, nitrobenzene, diethyl ether, sodium bisulfite, concentrated sulfuric acid, and cyclohexane and want to make milligram quantities over a couple days work, knock yourself out.

Last edited by asterion; 01-08-2019 at 09:24 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 11:01 PM
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Prices for 16 oz. Madagascar vanilla:

Penzey's: $90
Savory Spice: $67
Nielsen-Massey (Amazon): $60

There are others that are much cheaper, but the descriptions contain weasel words like "contains vanilla extract", or "vanilla blend with real Madagascar vanilla", or, like McCormick, don't even tell you where it comes from or what is in the bottle. Those aren't products that I or any respectable baker would use.

Last edited by Chefguy; 01-08-2019 at 11:02 PM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 11:04 PM
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Luckily for you, this is exactly the sort of thing I'm supposed to use my ACS member access benefits for. If I've got this right, the procedure is basically:
...
So, if you can get your hands on sodium hydroxide, DMSO, nitrobenzene, diethyl ether, sodium bisulfite, concentrated sulfuric acid, and cyclohexane and want to make milligram quantities over a couple days work, knock yourself out.
Better and better. Thank you so much for the summary. I have sodium hydroxide from my pretzel experiments, so I'm well on my way to collecting that list. When I have them all I may be back to ask for a more detailed procedure.
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:05 AM
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Read the reviews of the Sainsburys brand vanilla.
Strewth, yeah, those reviews are terrible.
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Old 01-09-2019, 01:06 AM
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Better and better. Thank you so much for the summary. I have sodium hydroxide from my pretzel experiments, so I'm well on my way to collecting that list. When I have them all I may be back to ask for a more detailed procedure.
Frankly, I think it's a terrible idea. You've got acute toxicity solvents, highly flammable solvents, peroxide forming solvents, chronic toxicity solvents, environmentally hazardous solvents, strong acids, and strong bases. There's issues with proper disposal of hazardous waste, with proper storage of dangerous materials, and most of those chemicals are on the DEA List II watchlist, meaning you will be scrutinized by any supplier. I wouldn't want to do that procedure as written even at work, partially because I flatly refuse to work with ether. I'd be fine with it as an experiment for an undergraduate lab (with some changes for safety), but trying to do it at home is just asking for trouble, both in terms of safety and in terms of legality.
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Old 01-09-2019, 01:28 AM
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Try not to blow yourself up.
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Old 01-09-2019, 02:48 AM
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... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
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Old 01-09-2019, 09:53 AM
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Originally Posted by asterion View Post
I wouldn't want to do that procedure as written even at work, partially because I flatly refuse to work with ether.
Indeed. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge.
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Old 01-09-2019, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
Indeed. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge.
As much as I like Hunter S Thompson, there really are lots of dangers with diethyl ether. It's highly volatile, highly flammable, and prone to forming explosive organic peroxides. Almost anything you can do with ether you can do with safer solvents.
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Old 01-09-2019, 11:38 AM
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Diethyl ether is pretty much my favorite solvent, but it's not for home use.

Last edited by Ruken; 01-09-2019 at 11:38 AM.
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Old 01-09-2019, 02:31 PM
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Well, if you think that's bad, it's probably for the best that you don't look up the method that uses castoreum, which is harvested from beaver anal glands.
As an aside, our dog's anal glands have a distinct vanilla note to them. In faint traces, the vanilla is very noticeable, but the other butt-notes soon overpower the vanilla-notes with proximity. I've had a few gross-out moments of "Hmmm, is someone making cookies? Better go check and OH DEAR MOTHER OF GOD!"
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