Production of synthetic vanillin by China's chemical industry could be affected by tighter environmental, health and safety controls in future, warns a major vanillin producer.
Vanilla remains the most popular food flavour but the yoyo-ing price of vanilla beans has persuaded many food producers to use synthetic vanillin in recipes, as it is cheaper and more readily available.
The emerging Chinese chemical industry has become a major source of synthetic vanillin, says Dominique Giannotta, marketing and innovation manager at vanillin producer Rhodia. But he warns that the production methods currently being used are anything but green and may, therefore, be unsustainable.
"China's environmental and health and safety legislation is currently behind western standards, but the country is getting increasingly strict. Three out of the five major producers were forced to stop production for environmental reasons," says Giannotta.
In China, most vanillin producers start from the raw material ortho nitrochloro benzene (ONCB) when making vanillin. This has many environmental implications in terms of land, air and water pollution, and gives rise to hazardous by-products, which can put worker safety at risk.
Having recently purchased a Chinese vanillin production plant, Rhodia was able to assess its environmental performance. It has since invested to change production from the ONCB process to the catechol route, used at its plants in France and the US, which starts with a more environmentally-friendly raw material.