Today, over 95 percent of vanilla flavouring used in foods, from cereal to ice cream, is not natural and the production of the synthetic one is taking a toll on the environment.
The process of making it synthetically creates a stream of wastewater that requires treatment before it can be released into surface waters.
Now, the researchers have come up with a new "greener" way to make vanillin, the primary flavour compound in vanilla.
Although consumers have been demanding more "natural" foods in recent years, less than 1 percent of vanilla flavour produced globally comes from its original natural source, the vanilla orchid. The rest is synthesized from a petroleum-derived precursor called guaiacol, tree lignin and other substances such as cow feces.
But the catalysts currently used in the manufacturing of vanillin are polluting and can only be used one time. So Ganapati D. Yadav and Shivaji L. Bhanawase sought an improved method to make the popular flavor compound.
The researchers created a catalyst by encapsulating copper-aluminum hydrotalcite in silica. Testing showed that it efficiently spurred the separation of vanillin from other compounds.
The catalyst worked in water under ambient air pressure, and eliminated the need for a polluting step involving hydrochloric acid that current techniques require. The catalyst could also be recovered and re-used.
The researchers said that their process could be economically scaled up for a more environmentally friendly approach to making commercial vanillin.
The study appears in ACS' journal guaiacol Industrial & Engineering Chemistry. (ANI)