17.11.2021 change 17.11.2021

Wrocław researchers to work on vanillin production from agri-food waste

Dr. Ewa Szczepańska from the Department of Chemistry, Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences. Credit: Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences Dr. Ewa Szczepańska from the Department of Chemistry, Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences. Credit: Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences

Work on the production of natural vanillin from agri-food waste incl. corn cobs will be conducted by Dr. Ewa Szczepańska from the Department of Chemistry of the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences.

The scientist will receive nearly PLN 1.5 million for research from the National Centre for Research and Development LEADER programme.

Dr. Szczepańska said that the proposed method of obtaining vanillin may not only be an alternative path to obtain one of the most desirable and at the same time poorly available flavours, but also a good example of production waste management.

She said: “The high price and limited availability of vanillin from vanilla beans combined with the growing awareness of consumers with regard to natural ingredients, prompted us to develop a method of biosynthesis of this flavour using microorganisms that are safe for humans. As part of the project, we will use microbiological cultures on agro-industrial waste products rich in the vanillin precursor, ferulic acid.”

In the course of cultivation, as a result of the action of enzymes secreted by microorganisms, plant biomass will be degraded, leading to the release of ferulic acid.

Szczepańska said: “In a further process, this compound will be converted to vanillin. It is worth noting that vanillin obtained with this method meets the criteria of an aroma identical to the natural one. This strategy may be an economically attractive alternative to the processes of obtaining vanillin by means of chemical synthesis, which is currently the most common method in the industry.”

Vanillin is a fragrance and flavouring compound that is widely used in the food industry. It is mainly used as an additive to dairy and chocolate products, and to a lesser extent in cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Currently, the global demand for vanillin - about 16,000 tonnes per year - is almost completely covered by chemically synthesized vanillin. Szczepańska said that while this compound is cheap, it is produced from a petroleum-derived, toxic phenol. On the other hand, the natural extraction of vanillin from plant materials (Vanilla planifoliabeans) is very expensive and time-consuming because the beans contain small amounts of this compound.

The demand for vanillin in Poland is 100% covered by import from abroad, this flavouring is currently not manufactured in Poland. 

Wrocław university, the largest Polish manufacturer of food additives, said it is interested in the results of Dr. Szczepańska's work.

PAP - Science in Poland,  Piotr Doczekalski

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