Badula (badula) wrote,

Nero fiddles while Tom Waits

vanilla manufacturing starts a long way from the flower fields, with crude oil and one of its basic components, benzene, a colorless, sweet-smelling, flammable liquid solvent, one of the so-called aromatic compounds found in flowers, fruits and vegetables as well as in crude oil, natural gas, and coal tar. Most of the delicate scents come straight from the rotten dinosaurs. Benzene is the source of feedstocks for thousands of products including vanilla, artificial colors, gasoline, and that symbol of clean chemistry, aspirin.

At the refinery, benzene is oxidized at the steam cracker and reacted with propylene (also from petroleum) to get cumene, an important industrial chemical, which is then further reacted to get phenol, a clear, swwetysh-tarry-smelling liquid that used to be sold under its common name, carbolic acid, as a sore remedy. Phenol is still used in antiseptic products; it was reacted with formaldehyde to make the first plastic, Bakelite, too, but is now mostly used to make plywood glue, with leftovers going into vanilla.

The phenol is condenced into white crystals called catechol, an oily methyl ester used in photographic developers, which is liquified and catalyzed into guiacol, a yellowish semisolid, light-sensitive alcohol that has a slight smoky/woody/vanilla scent. This is dried into off-white crystals or liquified and sold by the major chemical companies to the major flavor companies for further processing. Guaicol is a popular chemical with the pharmaceutical companies, too, who make it into guaifenesin, which you might recognize as a popular decongestant.

Next, guaicol is reacted under high temperature and pressure with a dash of the corrosive, solid glyoxylic acid so a sweet cherry hint (or "note") develops in addition to the almost delicate, sweet benzene odor. And bright, white aromatic vanilla-smelling crystals drop out of the liquid. Pure vanillin.

Fatty make a funny?

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