Food Use
Vanilla pods and vanilla extract have long been used for flavouring. Placing matured vanilla pods into other ingredients, like sugar, is sufficient to impart the flavour. Various recipes contain vanilla extract, and many chefs will only use the natural extract.
image: vanilla pod and extract
The food industry uses synthetic vanillin and ethyl vanillin as flavouring agents. Vanillin is an antioxidant and also has antibacterial properties, so it helps to preserve food. It is also reported that cattle fed with vanilla-flavoured feed gain more weight because they eat more.

Uses

diagram: ethyl vanillin
photo: vanilla icecream
Non-food use
It is used by the fragrance industry as a component in items such as air fresheners, room sprays, candles, incense cones, body lotions, shampoos, soaps and shower gels. Ethyl vanillin is often used because of its stronger aroma.

Vanilla is also used to improve the odour of paints and cleaning products.
photo: scented candles
photo: chocolates

Intermediate
The development of cost-effective synthetic routes has enabled its use as a chemical intermediate in the manufacture of several important drugs and other products.

L-Dopa

diagram: structures of L-Dopa and dopamine

Used to treat Parkinson's disease.

It is believed that a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Dopamine cannot be given directly as it cannot cross the barrier from bloodstream to brain cells. L-Dopa can, and is an intermediate in the body's synthesis of dopamine from the amino acid tyrosine.

L-Methyldopa

diagram: structure of L-methyldopa

For the treatment of high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Methyldopa acts on the nervous system and has the effect of relaxing blood vessels, so reducing blood pressure. It may not address the underlying cause, but reduces strain on the heart.

Trimethoprim
diagram: structure of trimethoprim
Has antibacterial properties and is used to treat infections, particularly of the urinary tract.
Herbicides (vanillin hydrazones similar to 2,4-D)

Hydrazones of vanillin are found to be effective herbicides, with similar properties to 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).

 

Antifoaming agents These are used, for example, to limit frothing in lubricating oils.

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