Vanillin — My Enemy!

I had no idea how many fragrance oil blends had vanillin in them until I experienced some nasty color changes. Vanillin is known to discolor, usually turning things brown, which is why the best soaping suppliers report the vanillin content of all their fragrances. Vanillin is found in all coffee fragrances and a whole host of others you’d never suspect.

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My first bad experience with vanillin was when I made coffee soap. Coffee fragrances all have vanillin, so plan on discoloration if you make a coffee soap. I’d planned on three layers, from dark to light with some copper glitter. It looked so nice when I put it to bed!

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Overnight the beautiful copper glitter turned into an orange horror! I hate orange! I was so disappointed.

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Three days later, it had darkened considerably, thus lessening the appearance of the orange on top. I thought it looked a lot better but still was disappointed that the white top layer had turned to chocolate. I’ve since learned that experienced coffee soap makers simply don’t put any coffee fragrance into the part of the soap they want to keep white.

Everyone I’ve given the coffee soap to has loved it. Not one person even mentioned the orange color on the top. They immediately sniffed it, inhaling the delicious coffee scent, and loved it.

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My second encounter with vanillin was when I made my first confetti soap batch. The base was supposed to be white. What a surprise it was to me when it came out tan! I’d used orange blossom fragrance oil. Why in the world would it have vanillin in it?  I don’t know, but I looked it up, and it does! The only reason the copper glitter didn’t turn orange was that I first dusted the top with a layer of silvery white glitter. That must have created a barrier between the vanillin-laced soap batter and the copper glitter that followed.


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My third and most recent vanillin encounter of the horrible kind was two days ago. I learned that vanillin not only turns things anywhere from tan to brown, it also goes orange in some circumstances. I knew it happened from my experience with copper glitter, but yesterday I found out that vanillin also doesn’t play well with red mica. I used a wine red as a base for a confetti soap with brown to caramel colored chips.  Added Midnight Pomegranate fragrance oil, thinking that would go nicely with the wine red base. Didn’t even give a thought to whether it might have vanillin. Why would it? Put it to bed thinking it was going to be very pretty.

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Overnight I was horrified to discover that my lovely wine red soap with copper glitter had turned into taco vomit. I hated it!!

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Here they are after the cut. My friend thinks these soaps are pretty. I find them pretty repulsive.

I hate surprises of this kind, not to mention the disappointment and the waste. This batch of soap doesn’t meet my standard to give as a gift. So I started checking the vanillin content of all my FO’s so I’d know what I was up against when I make my next batch. I was surprised to find vanillin in florals and fruit scents but more surprised to find out just how pervasive it is. A couple of my suppliers had vanillin in most of their fragrances. Others had it in only some of them. Oddly, some of the FO’s that had a higher content of vanillin than this one (Midnight Pomegranate, 0.4%) didn’t cause me any problems.

If you want to avoid unhappy surprises, do your homework and research the vanillin content of all your fragrances. I had to learn this same lesson three times before it really took hold. I was shocked and annoyed to find that several suppliers don’t bother to list the vanillin content of the fragrances. I’m now boycotting any supplier that doesn’t give this important information on their website.

And keep meticulous notes on your soapmaking, including photos of how they turned out.


2 thoughts on “Vanillin — My Enemy!

  1. I think that your batting average still pretty darn high! If you only have a few ‘mistakes’ you are a natural! The cut soaps look really clean; how do you cut them?


  2. Thanks, Kathy! You’re a great cheerleader! All soapers run into these kinds of issues. I’d run into fewer of them if I’d only stop experimenting with new fragrances and new oils! Am dying to try a much larger batch (12 bars, 4.5 ounces each) with multiple colors, so am going to carefully go over my notes, including all the notes I made on vanillin content in the fragrances I have on hand.

    This batch of soaps were cut with a large kitchen knife. Sometimes I get clean cuts with a knife, but sometimes it tears them near the edges. Wire cutters (like giant cheese slicers) usually work better and often give cleaner cuts than knife cutting, but I’ve also learned that the type of oils you use also makes a difference.


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