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.

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.

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.

Nope. Oak (or any wood) works, or coal tar, or supposedly even manure: So THAT'S What Imitation Vanilla Extract Is Made Of | HuffPost Life 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: How Is Artificial Vanilla Made?

Ho-ly crap. There is such a thing. Who knew? Plus, I will never use fake vanilla again, that’s just gross.

Huh. I knew synthetic vanilla is often described as “a by-product of the paper industry” but never knew the details. Neat.

Makes a person wonder why paper mills smell so bad. They could have scented up the town with fake vanilla.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Stop it. Do you WANT me to starve to death, or something. Aaaaaccckkk!:slight_smile:

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.


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.

Not only that, the OP specifically mentions they don’t want recipes with vanilla soaked in vodka. It’s not exactly a long OP:

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.