Vanilla is a kind of universal icon: it’s as popular in food as it is in perfumes, and it’s adored by both children and adults. It is well-known and widely used around the world, and research indicates that its global appeal stems from the fact that its flavor is similar to that of breast milk. Vanilla is a potent aphrodisiac, and its warm, sweet, intense, and slightly resinous aroma is associated with sensuous, earthly pleasures.


The origins of vanilla

It was named after the Spanish word vaina, which means “small pod,” and is a member of the orchid family from the genus Vanilla. Vanilla was known in ancient Mexico as “cacixanatl” (cacixanatl, Aztec: deep flower), and her homeland was the Veracruz region along the Gulf of Mexico. Because there aren’t enough bees to pollinate the Mexican Vanilla plantifolia, the French have established vast plantations in Madagascar and Reunion.

According to legend, Xanat, the Mexican fertility goddess’s daughter, fell madly in love with the youthful Toton. Because she couldn’t marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into vanilla, a plant that will bring him pleasure and happiness.

After the invasion of Totonaca in the 15th century, the Aztecs learned about this plant, as did the Spaniards when they enslaved the Aztecs. According to some sources, Hernan Cortes was the first Spanish explorer and conquistador to bring it to Western Europe. Europeans became addicted to the taste and they’ve adopted the Aztec ritual of drinking hot chocolate with vanilla flavoring.

Mexicans Harvesting Vanilla Pods

It is interesting that until the beginning of the 17th century, vanilla was used exclusively as an additive for chocolate until the Englishman Hugh Morgan used it in the preparation of sweetmeat that Queen Elizabeth I simply adored.

Is vanilla an aphrodisiac?

Vanilla is considered a powerful aphrodisiac, and it obtained this reputation in 1762 when a German study discovered that medicine based on vanilla extract cured all 342 subjects of impotence.

The French were the first to use it in ice cream – a delicacy that Thomas Jefferson discovered in 1780 while living in Paris. Jefferson was so enthusiastic about it that he copied a recipe that is still kept in the Library of Congress.

Why is it so expensive?

Vanilla, after saffron, is the second most expensive spice in the world, primarily because its production is very demanding. It grows like a vine from which greenish-yellow flowers sprout. Each flower remains open for only 24 hours, and if it is not pollinated during that period, it withers and dies. In Mexico, it is pollinated by melipona bees, after which the fruit develops in the shape of a pod filled with thousands of tiny black seeds.


Without a suitable bee, vanilla was unsuccessfully transplanted to other tropical regions until 1841, when Edmond Albius, a twelve-year-old slave on Reunion Island (Bourbon at the time), devised a method of hand-pollinating flowers with a stick and thumb. New plantations sprung up all throughout the world, from Madagascar to India to Tahiti and Indonesia, due to the simple technique.

When ripe, the pods are harvested by hand and then subjected to a prolonged, multi-stage hardening process. The end result is dried, aromatic black beans sold by spice suppliers. Particularly long maturation and preparation of vanilla must take time to be used in perfumes. First-class vanilla takes 18 months, while the best and highest-quality vanilla – Bourbon vanilla – requires 24 months.

That is why ethyl vanillin, a synthetic substitute for natural vanilla, was developed. Vanilla was first synthesized in 1874 by chemists Ferdinand Tiemann and Wilhelm Haarmann, paving the way for the creation of a new category of oriental perfumes with massive quantities of vanilla in the base, such as Guerlain Shalimar.


Is it the real thing in perfumes?

The vanilla in most perfumes nowadays is synthetic vanillin, which is at least twenty times less costly than real vanilla. Despite the fact that chemists have been trying for years to create a scent that is as close to the original as possible, the more gifted “noses” are likely to say that real vanilla is earthier, softer, and more like a “warm touch of drunkenness.”

Why is vanilla so good in perfumes?

Vanilla’s fragrant note is creamy, soothing, and exotic at the same time. Vanila has a magical scent that is not only sweet but also pleasantly comforting. Vanilla’s long-standing reputation as an aphrodisiac has been transferred to perfumes, especially oriental fragrances, as well as a plethora of fragrant concoctions targeted at the young. However, not all vanillas are created equal, and the smell of each kind varies significantly depending on the climate in which it is grown.

Mexican vanila has an incredibly rich and sweet scent, with hints of wood, animal, and tobacco tones. It is characterized by a very strong and sweet resinous spicy taste. Vanila from Tahiti is completely different, it is sweet, but it has no traces of tobacco or animal notes like Mexican, which is probably why it pleases more people because it reminds them of their favorite cakes, ice cream, and pastries. Guadalupe vanila has a specific floral sweet scent with traces of anise and is very often used in the creation of perfumes.


Although there are many popular perfumes that contain pure vanilla, for a classic, rich feminine fragrance, many perfumers combine it with different flowers. In recent times, there are more and more amazingly pleasant fragrant compositions in which vanilla is mixed with tobacco and spices. What is certain is that vanilla combines well with flowers, amber, sandalwood, vetiver, opoponax, and spices, as demonstrated by perfumers’ expertise dating all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century.

Fantastic perfumes with a dominant vanila note are:

  • Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise
  • Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensee
  • Dior Addict
  • Dior Hypnotic Poison
  • Diptyque Eau Duelle
  • Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur
  • Guerlain Shalimar
  • Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille
  • Indult Tihota
  • Jo Malone Vanila Anise
  • Juliette has a Gun Vanila Vibes
  • Kenzo Amour
  • L’Aritsan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument
  • Lancome La Vie Est Belle
  • Lush Vanillary
  • Mona di Orio Les Nombres d’Or Vanille
  • Mugler Alien Essence Absolue
  • Nicolaï Vanila Tonka
  • Ralph Lauren Midnight Romance
  • Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille