Smells nice but...

4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde is typically created by refining petroleum though originally it was distilled from coniferin (the crystals you occasionally see on pine trees) in Germany around 1875. That awful sounding chemical compound is vanillin, the major ingredient in vanilla.

While some vanilla is still harvested from Vanilla beans, mostly in Madagascar which supplies 60% of the worlds crop of Vanilla, it's such a labor intensive and lengthy process most vanilla is chemically synthesized. The complication is that there's 216 different chemicals in vanilla.

Why am I telling you all this? It so happens that this is the focus in a chapter of a book that I'm currently reading. Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger. The book details just exactly what goes into making a Hostess Twinkie and where those ingredients come from and how they're made. It's a very interesting book--particularly if you're curious about how much chemistry is being used in the food business these days. I assure you, it's scary at times.

In case you were curious, vanillin is an oxidized alcohol. The artificial version never quite tastes as good as the natural version but it only costs about a half percent as much as the real stuff. It's no wonder most commercial bakeries use artificial vanilla.


Teresa said…
Though I really try not to think about what artificial flavors really are made out of, somehow I like to think that they are really something else that is similar. Let me have that that illusion. ;-)

I make my own vanilla. Though it's always good, there's always a variation because of the difference in beans and how long it's been "brewing".
kenju said…
SassyAssy said…
I love twinkies....please don't kill that for me!! :)
tiff said…
I ONLY buy the real stuff....and that's about as big a food snob as I'll ever be. The artificial stuff simply doesn't taste right.

Sounds like a really interesting book! How geekly!
diane said…
Have you ever heard of the book, "Skinny Bitch?" It is not scientific at all, but has frightened me right into the organic section of the grocery store. I had to skip through the parts on meat, as I have no intention of becoming a vegetarian. Oy, the garbage that is in food, and we don't even realize it!!

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