The Syensqo company, comprising the solutions, activities and markets represented in the article below, was spun off from Solvay group in December 2023.
Natural vanillin: an enabler for the food industry’s ‘clean label’ challenges
Everywhere around the world, consumer demand is shifting towards foods that are both healthier (containing less fat, sugar, artificial additives, etc.) and more sustainable: made from ingredients that don’t deplete our planet’s resources. Brands are hard at work revisiting their recipes to answer that demand for clean food labels, but it’s not as easy as it might seem. From cookies to chocolates to sports nutrition, making products that retain all their properties (taste, texture, smell) while revising their ingredients list is a puzzle.
Opting for natural vanillin, which enables the reduction of sugar content, the masking of unwanted off-notes and doing it all with a non-artificial and sustainably sourced ingredient, is a solution to solve that puzzle. And at Solvay, we’re doing everything we can to make that switch as effortless as possible for the food industry.
A natural flavoring solution made easier to incorporate
Our Group is a world-renowned supplier of synthetic vanillin for the F&F (Flavors & Fragrances) and F&B (Food & Beverage) industries, and has been for decades. But over the last few years, Solvay launched its natural counterpart, Rhovanil® Natural, made by valorizing a byproduct of non-GMO rice bran, thanks to a fermentation process. As such, it’s the only vanillin not made from vanilla beans considered as a ‘natural flavoring’ by the EU’s stringent regulatory standards, enabling manufacturers to take a big step forward in the clean label challenge.
In 2022, we expanded the Rhovanil® Natural offering with three new grades: Delica, Alta, Sublima. Why? Because we know how difficult it can be for manufacturers in the food industry to integrate a new and more costly ingredient into their recipes and processes, and since making the switch to natural vanillin is a way for them to keep up with evolving customer demand, we want to help them make that switch as easy as possible, namely with grades that are easy to use and a "door opener" for natural ingredients for cost-sensitive applications.
“These new grades don’t have a stronger intensity, but they can mask off-notes to bring a more balanced flavor, for example,” explains Caroline Calin, Technical Marketing Manager for Naturals at Solvay’s Aroma Performance business unit. “Keep in mind that pure natural vanillin is a very strong product, so it needs to be dosed very precisely, which is why we worked on these new grades, to help with dosing and dispersion, which is particularly crucial in applications like bakery or chocolate” – the latter being the historical #1 use for vanillin.
As opposed to the F&F segment, where pure natural vanillin is a perfect ingredient for their formulations, in the Food industry, synthetic vanillin has been the traditional go-to product. So far. “With its high purity, naturalness, security of supply and guarantees in terms of pricing, Rhovanil® Natural is a new and different solution for producers of sweet goods,” says Caroline. “Also, it’s made from a byproduct of rice bran that goes to waste otherwise, so the sustainability aspect is real through the circular economy: there is no competition with food production and we upcycle a byproduct to support the value chain.”
Pure natural vanillin is a very strong product that needs to be dosed very precisely, which is why we worked on new grades, to help manufacturers with dosing and dispersion.
Cost-effectiveness for a win-win for the food industry
As the best clean label natural vanillin on the market offering the perfect combination of performance and taste, Solvay’s historical Rhovanil® Natural CW grade is best suited to solve the challenges of the F&B industry. Today, its three new grades offer a complement for specific cases and different uses. In addition to pastries and chocolate, vanillin is also used in products you wouldn’t necessarily think of instinctively, such as sports nutrition, where it’s useful to mask the unpleasant taste of certain plant-based proteins: that’s the purpose of the Delica grade, designed for off-note neutralization more than vanilla flavoring per se.
Vanillin is also increasingly used when manufacturers look to reduce animal products in their recipes (if you replace dairy with plant-based ingredients, vanillin can provide that missing creamy flavor) and diminish sugar content, as vanillin makes foods taste sweeter than they are. “Our aim is also to help the industry with rising costs while continuing their switch towards natural ingredients,” adds Caroline. “For example, Sublima offers technical performance that’s as close as possible to pure vanillin, with better cost-effectiveness.”
In effect, the matter of cost is crucial. Natural vanillin remains expensive (though not as much as natural vanilla extract, which is destined to remain a luxury product: its price has skyrocketed and its production remains small and uncertain), so Solvay’s objective is to make it more accessible. To that end, in 2022 the Group re-internalized its production process in its St Fons facility near Lyon, France and invested in a biotech fermentation plant in Portugal to increase our production capacity in order to support even better the growth of our customers in the food industry. “We’re also working on securing our raw material supply, as well as looking for process and supply improvements, so there’s a big R&I effort going on in Lyon,” explains Caroline.
With manufacturers across the food industry determined to continue moving towards healthier, more sustainable and clean label ingredients despite the obstacle of cost, not to mention new applications on the horizon, natural vanillin definitely has a bright future. “We’re determined to find the right compromise so that it’s a win-win for everyone,” concludes Caroline.