Ferulic acid is found in cell walls where it
helps to form links that strengthen the walls. Its structure is similar
to vanillin, and it is probably the starting point for vanillin production
in the vanilla orchid.
Having noticed that some soil bacteria produced a vanilla smell when
fed with ferulic acid, research is leading to methods that may allow
vanillin synthesis from agricultural waste. Various strains of bacteria
and fungi have been tried with sugar beet pulp (left over from sugar
production) and wheat/maize bran, and the results are very promising.