The Flavors of Vanilla

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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The cured pod is about 20% water by weight, 20% fiber, 25% sugars, 15% fat, and the remainder amino acids, phenolic compounds, other flavors, and brown pigments. The sugars provide sweetness, free amino acids provide some savoriness, fat richness, and tannins some astringency. The aroma of natural vanilla is complex. More than 200 different volatile compounds have been found in vanilla beans. The principal one, the phenolic compound vanillin, does suggest vanilla on its own, but without the whole spice’s richness. Some of the other important vanilla volatiles contribute flavor notes described as woody, floral, green-leaf, tobacco, dried-fruit, clove-like, honey-like, caramel, smoky, earthy, and buttery.