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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Not all Vanilla is vanilla

Only one major food product comes from orchids: it's vanilla. Though also used as a synonym for being plain, the ubiquitous flavoring agent (I guess technically a spice) is complex, rich, fragile, and the object of great study. So today, as this press release from Xinhuanet trumpeting "China completes vanilla genome sequencing" starts percolating through the internet, I'm going to head the hype off at the pass.

First off, the article speculates about the creation of synthetic vanilla - but we already make that. We know the main component of vanilla is vanillin, and that is already synthesized in industrial scales. And in some applications, the artificial vanilla is actually better suited.

But all this talk of vanilla is actually a misdirection. The press release does not link to an actual journal article or database, so we cannot verify that this genome project was indeed completed, but it also talks about it being the genome of Vanilla shenzhenica. 

Commercial vanilla is produced from V. planifolia

Despite sharing the same genus name of Vanilla, this plant has nothing to do with vanilla. In fact, it was only first described in 2007 - hardly of great commercial interest. So, writers who want to find some interest piece about vanilla, don't use this as the jumping of point. It's not a floral opportunity - it's rather fishy.

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