Vanilla is not a traditional oil that has been used in true aromatherapy practice, although it is commonly used in aromatherapy perfumery products. However, it appears to be emerging more in aromatherapy products because of its availability as a CO2 essential oil; previously, it was only available as an absolute (or resinoid). Here’s a quick look at the difference between vanilla absolute and vanilla as a CO2 extracted essential oil.
The Extraction of Vanilla
Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is a perennial vine with green stems and huge “trademark” white flowers. The plant is a member of the Orchidaceae botanical family. It is native to Central America and Mexico, although vanilla cultivars and sub-species are today grown and produced in Réunion, Madagascar, Tahiti, and the West Indies.
The vanilla pods or beans are extracted for the production of the absolute. It takes between six and nine months before the pods are mature enough to be cured. Curing involves fermenting and drying the pods for the production of vanilla pods ready for retail. The curing process (where the vanilla fragrance is ultimately produced) may take six months to complete.
Cured vanilla pods are then solvent extracted to produce a resinoid. Finally, vanilla absolute is produced from the extraction of the resinoid. Given the complex and labor intensive process involved, it is easy to see why vanilla is a highly priced absolute.
Vanilla as an Absolute
Vanilla absolute is produced, in part, for the perfumery industry. However, because vanilla is so highly priced, there are many synthetic substitutes available. True vanilla absolute has a rich, balsamic vanilla aroma; it is also sweet. It exists as a dark brown, solid/liquid that needs warming up before it can be blended for aromatherapy and perfumery use.
Vanilla as a CO2 Essential Oil
CO2 essential oils are closer in “make-up” to distilled essential oils because of the lack of solvent used in the process (as in the case of absolutes). However, this does not mean they are the same as distilled essential oils. CO2 essential oils are extracted using carbon dioxide under high pressure. CO2 extracted oils are said to produce an aroma closer to that of the plant than that of distilled essential oils. But because CO2 essential oils are relatively new to the market, little is known/proven about how the therapeutic properties of a CO2 essential oil actually compare to a distilled essential oil. However, CO2 extraction can be used with plants that could not traditionally be steam distilled.
Vanilla CO2 essential oil has a range of vanillin percentage content – the component which gives vanilla its “vanilla” aroma. Vanilla CO2 essential oil dissolves in carrier oils, unlike vanilla absolute. However, the solid waxy substance still requires warming up before it can be blended successfully into aromatherapy and perfumery products.
Study Aromatherapy with Sedona Aromatherapie
Vanilla is a plant and oil that is studied in the Sedona Aromatherapie Certification in Professional Aromatherapy Program; to learn more about Sedona Aromatherapie home study courses visit the courses home page.
Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorsons
Eden Botanicals website, accessed April 21, 2014
Author is a certified aromatherapist