Scientists extract vanilla fragrance from cow dung

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Japanese scientists at the International Medical Center of Japan
say they have successfully undertaken a co-operative development
program with Sekisui Chemical company to extract vanilla fragrance
from cow dung.

According to an AFX report, Mayu Yamamoto, who headed up the project, said that the process involved heating up the dung under pressure, which leads to the production of vanillin, a major component of the vanilla-bean.

Vanillin is often used to fragrance a range of personal care products - from high-end perfumes, to hair care and skin care formulations. However, in recent years vanilla beans have become an increasingly difficult commodity to source, as crops have historically fluctuated from year-to-year, leading to unstable pricing.

Last year major fragrance players such as Givaudan reported that lower market prices for vanillin had hits its performance during the course of 2005, as increased supplies from Madagascar contributed to a lowering of the market price for the commodity.

This problem has led to the big fragrance companies developing a range of synthetic vanillin fragrances, but with the rise in demand for naturally-derived ingredients combined with the sourcing problems, researchers have been chasing other ways to develop the extract.

Although the researchers say that the bi-product could not be used in food, they claim the chemical make up of the compound is exactly the same as vanilla bean-derived vanillin.

Another major advantage to personal care producers is the cost of the cow dung-derived vanillin. Yamamoto claims that, because of the availability of the dung and the simplicity of the extraction process, it is around half the price of vanilla bean-derived extract.

The research work was carried out on the basis that the excrement of grass-eating animals is rich in lignin, a chemical compound that exists in plants and is used to produce vanilla aroma.

In fact the solution solves two problems, as cow farmers are often at a loss as to how to dispose of the vast quantities of dung involved in cattle farming, allowing the dung to be recycled, while also putting it to use as a potential means of cash revenue.

The research team is currently working on the development of machinery that could handle several tons of dung a day and may be put into commercial use in two to three years, the AFX report added.

The personal care industry is no stranger to animal wastage, with a specific type of whale vomit proving to be one of the most highly treasured fragrance extracts. Ambergris, or grey amber, is actually bile secreted by sperm whales to help them digest food.

Newly deposited Ambergris is said to smell absolutely foul. But following a few years of exposure to salt, water and sun, the lump eventually boasts a sweet, musky and alluring smell that many leading fragrance makers say adds a distinct and highly appealing character.

But it costs. Recently a 32 pound lump of Ambergris washed up on an Australian beach and was estimated to have a market value of up to AUD$1 million ($750,000).

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