The Story of molecules
when I was a child, almost all the tea I came into contact with was jasmine tea, and cheap jasmine tea was standard in restaurants. When I first saw the jasmine, I thought to myself: why does this flower smell like tea?
and another thing that fascinates me is Vanilla Ice Cream. For a long time, I regarded it as the "original flavor" of ice cream. Vanilla is almost tasteless in my mind: no chocolate, no strawberries, no raisins, nothing.
this is unfair to vanilla, which is of course a little sweeter than pure milk ice cream. However, such a misunderstanding is understandable. Vanilla is such a common basic style in ice cream that it can be found all over the street and any brand. It is so common that this sweet flavor is almost synonymous with boredom. There is even a special term "plain vanilla" in English to describe those mundane things.
the fact that vanilla tastes so bad stems from people's mastery of a chemical molecule called vanillin.
vanillin is the most important aroma ingredient in natural vanilla pods. This natural spice is not easy to come by: first of all, the planting conditions are relatively high, and it takes a long time to become a spice after harvesting fresh pods.
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fresh vanilla pods do not have that sweet smell, because the vanillin it contains is not free, but exists in the form of glycosides, and the fragrance cannot be released at this time.
(fresh vanilla pod containing the tiny seeds of the orchid plant vanilla. On the right is vanillin in the form of glycosides.
after a long process of sun exposure and fermentation, vanilla pod finally gained its aroma. Among the fragrant extracts of natural vanilla, vanillin accounts for about 98% of the absolute dominance, and there are hundreds of different molecules.
Natural vanilla has always been expensive, and it is still not cheap today, so most of the vanilla flavor we eat in cheap processed foods comes from artificially produced vanillin. It is this artificial process that makes vanilla one of the most common and inexpensive flavors. Nowadays, vanillin is often added to chocolate to enhance its flavor, although cocoa itself does not contain this molecule.
(in addition to natural extracts, the market is now dominated by vanilla made from synthetic vanillin. Other artificial flavors are often complained about their taste (especially cherry), but artificial vanilla is widely accepted. On the one hand, vanillin's contribution to the aroma is overwhelming, on the other hand, it may also be because there are few opportunities to eat real vanilla. People are very used to the artificial vanilla smell everywhere. Interestingly, vanillin is also one of the components of the smell of old books. This sweet-smelling substance can be produced in the process of lignin degradation and transformation. In fact, lignin is also an important raw material for the production of vanillin. There are not only methods for producing lignin left over from the paper industry, but also researchers are very inspired to use the lignin in cow dung to make vanilla essence.
(cow dung makes vanilla essence, this researcher, you can think about it. She won the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry
anyway, thanks to chemical researchers for making it so easy for us to enjoy the sweet aroma. Do you like vanilla food? I still like the smell of vanilla, although I prefer vanilla-flavored ∠ to ice cream.