Vanilla is one of the most easily-recognised perfume ingredients of all.
Vanilla comes from the seeds of a dried pod from a climbing orchid-like plant which flourishes especially well in Madagascar; the very best quality of vanilla comes from the Île Bourbon, now known as Réunion. It gets its name from the Spanish word ‘vaina’ (meaning sheath or pod, and translates simply as ‘little pod’. (Strangely, the flower itself is scent-less.)
Perhaps because vanilla is the second priciest spice in the world, after saffron, the vanilla you smell in many perfumes today is synthetic vanillin: clever chemists have worked to mimic the real thing – although the most gifted noses will probably tell you that real vanilla is earthier, with touches of treacle and a touch of ‘booziness’.
There’s beautiful legend about vanilla:
“Old Totonac lore has it that Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness – that plant was the Vanilla vine. This reputation was much enhanced in 1762 when a German study found that a medication based on vanilla extract cured impotence — all 342 smiling subjects claimed they were cured.”’
Perfumes from our selection, where You’ll be finding prominent vanilla notes: