Biotech Updates

Scientists Search for Alternative Sources of Vanilla Flavor

September 21, 2016

Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors all over the world. However, less than one percent of vanilla flavor in the market comes from the natural source, the vanilla orchid. In 2015, several food companies in the U.S. including Nestlé declared that they would only use natural flavors in their products, the same time when there was already a shortage in natural vanilla. 

In an article in ACS Chemical and Engineering News (C&En), the efforts of flavor companies to meet the demand for natural vanilla alternatives were discussed. Evolva, a biotechnology firm, developed a process using a genetically modified microbe that produces vanillin glucoside. The sugar group glucoside must be removed to get the vanillin. The microbe used in the production of vanillin is considered as a processing aid, a product made with the flavor would not fall under U.S. GMO labeling requirements and could lend itself to no-artificial-ingredient claims. 

Plant scientists Nethaji Gallage and Birger Møller at the University of Copenhagen reported that certain plant cells in green vanilla beans enzymatically transform free ferulic acid into vanillin glucoside. The cells express a gene that codes for the active enzyme—vanillin synthase. The scientists were able to use variations of the gene to produce vanillin in a modified strain of yeast and in modified tobacco and barley plants. 

Read more from C&En and GLP.