Putting the ‘natural’ in natural vanillin

At a time when natural flavors are in strong demand, Solvay markets the only natural vanillin sanctioned by the most stringent legislations, ensuring resource efficiency in the process. Here’s how...

Solvay has long been the world’s leading producer of synthetic vanillin under the brand name Rhovanil®. But in recent years, demand from flavor manufacturers and from the food industry in general has been increasingly focusing on natural flavors. From chocolate to pastries to candy bars, more and more brands want to be able to boast the natural labelling of the flavors their products contain.

Rhovanil infographic


The leap from synthetic

Resorting to vanilla beans unfortunately isn’t an option. Natural vanilla, almost entirely produced in Madagascar, is a labor-intensive, small-scale production that hardly covers 1% of the world’s needs, and prices have skyrocketed over the last five years on top of that. Synthetic vanillin, an exact replica of the natural molecule, has been doing the trick for several decades now – Solvay has been a pioneer in this field since the late 19th century, and remains a global leader today.

But a few years ago, Solvay developed Rhovanil® Natural, a naturally derived alternative to synthetic vanillin, to answer the market’s budding demand for natural vanilla flavors. Today, driven by customers who want more and more natural food products, that demand has taken a new dimension. “There is a definite turn in the market that started several years ago, says Corinne Duffy, Technical Marketing Manager at Solvay’s Aroma Performance which produces Rhovanil®. “Today our customers want to replace synthetic vanillin with natural vanillin or natural flavors, so our Rhovanil® Natural is where we see tremendous growth.”

There is a definite turn in the market. Today our customers want to replace synthetic vanillin with natural vanillin, so our Rhovanil® Natural is where we see tremendous growth.

Corinne Duffy, Technical Marketing Manager, Aroma Performance, Solvay

Compliant with EU regulations

Rhovanil® Natural is derived from rice bran oil, a traditional and healthy ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine, similarly to olive oil in Mediterranean cooking. Ferulic acid is extracted from that oil and then fermented to obtain vanillin. Because of this unique manufacturing process, vanillin obtained by bioconversion of ferulic acid is the only natural vanillin that is compliant with EU regulations on the matter, the most stringent in the world.

“Three criteria must be met to be considered a natural aroma in the European Union,” explains Corinne. “First, the product’s origin must be natural, which is the case here since the original raw material is rice. Second, only certain processes are authorized for its transformation – fermentation, which is biological process, is one of those. Thirdly, the molecule must exist naturally, which is of course the case with vanillin.”

In 2018, Solvay launched Rhovanil® Natural CW (Crystal White), an innovation that provides increased purity while adding more capacities to meet customers demand, therefore making Rhovanil® Natural more accessible. Indeed, this natural product is considerably more expensive than its synthetic equivalent, though it still remains a fraction of the price of the vanillin from natural vanilla extract.

Ensuring resource efficiency

In addition to unparalleled regulatory compliance and high purity, Rhovanil® Natural provides the food industry with stable quality: manufacturers can rely on the product’s consistency, without any variation in its organoleptic profile or its pricing, as the raw material – rice – is a widely available and sustainable resource. It’s also allergen-free, and only non-GMO rice varieties are used for its production.

A high quality product, Rhovanil® Natural is exclusively made in Europe. Its production capacity was increased in 2017, “and we’re about to increase it again,” says Corinne. Buyers are flavor producers first and foremost, but Solvay also offers ready-to-use formulations (under the brand name Vanifolia®) that it can sell directly to food manufacturers. “ Thanks to our application laboratories, the Vanil’Expert Centers in Lyon, Shanghai and Princeton, we can accompany them in their use of our products,” continues Corinne. “As we are the historical provider of synthetic vanillin, our customers naturally turn to us when they start looking for natural solutions.” Thanks to Rhovanil® Natural, Solvay is keeping the upper hand on providing vanillin to sweeten the world.