Vanilla Absolute, Vanilla CO2 Extract and Vanilla Oleoresin
The rich, beautiful flavor and aroma of vanilla comes from the seeds contained within the beans of the vanilla orchid. Unlike lavender, peppermint, cedarwood, tea tree and so many other aromatic plants that are capable of being steam distilled to produce beautiful essential oils, vanilla beans do not effectively release their precious aromatic molecules when steam distilled (or cold pressed as is the case for citrus rind essential oils).
Therefore, there is no such thing as vanilla essential oil. Avoid purchasing any vanilla aromatic that is labeled as "Vanilla Essential Oil" because the seller either is being intentionally deceptive or is not knowledgeable enough to realize that what he/she is selling cannot possibly be legitimately referred to as an essential oil. In either case, the seller is one you should be highly suspicious of.
Having said that, Vanilla Oleoresin, Vanilla CO2 Extract and Vanilla Absolute are all available. Each is produced in a slightly different manner, and it's important to understand the differences between each type of vanilla. I will outline each of those further within this profile.
Aromatically, Vanilla Oleoresin, Vanilla CO2 Extract and Vanilla Absolute offer a rich, warm aroma that complements most other essential oils. The vanilla aromatics are especially lovely when blended with essential oils in the citrus, mint, wood, floral and spice families. It's a wonderful addition to soften and round out blends.
On its own, Vanilla Oleoresin, Vanilla CO2 Extract or Vanilla Absolute is certainly quite enjoyable and can assist with stress and nervous conditions (see uses below). However, they aren't the first aromatics that I'd choose for these conditions.
Vanilla Extract, like the type that is used for baking, is made by macerating vanilla beans in ethanol or another form of alcohol. The ethanol serves as the solvent. You can even make your own home made Vanilla Extract by using AromaWeb's Vanilla Extract Recipe.
Vanilla Oleoresin, to my understanding, is produced by taking Vanilla Extract and removing the ethanol or whatever solvent was used to originally produce the Vanilla Extract. Vanilla Oleoresin can be thicker than many essential oils. It depends on the Vanilla Oleoresin and on how much of the solvent has been removed. It can also depend upon your current room temperature. The cooler the oleoresin is, the thicker it will be to work with.
By its nature, Vanilla Oleoresin dissolves best in water and alcohol based solutions (i.e. a body spray). Unlike essential oils, Vanilla Oleoresin is lipophobic and does not properly dissolve in carrier oils.
Because terminology can be used erroneously, it's best to doublecheck with your supplier to confirm exactly how their oleoresin is produced.
Vanilla CO2 Extract
Vanilla CO2 Extracts are becoming more readily available. They are a beautiful, more natural and alcohol/solvent-free way to enjoy working with vanilla.
The CO2 supercritical extraction process allows the production staff to more easily control the proportions of certain desirable (and sometimes, certain undesirable) constituents that wind up in the final CO2 extract. In the case of Vanilla CO2 Extract, the aldehyde vanillin, is a crucial component in determining the aromatic profile of the extract. However, as Mark Webb confirmed in his CO2 Extract Course, working with CO2 Extracts that exceed 12% vanillin can result in an aroma that is not as full and rich.
Vanilla CO2 Extracts tend to be on the thicker side, but it depends partly on your room temperature. For more information, see AromaWeb's Using and Blending Thick Aromatic Oils article.
For more information about CO2 Extracts and how they are produced, see AromaWeb's article What is a CO2?.
Vanilla Absolute is produced using a solvent. Generally speaking, the solvents used to produce absolutes are synthetic. It's best to doublecheck with your supplier to find out what specific solvent was used to produce their Vanilla Absolute.
Because Vanilla Absolute can contain a trace amount of solvent, they should never be ingested. Vanilla Absolute is highly aromatic and results in a beautiful vanilla aroma. A little goes a long way. Because Vanilla CO2 Extracts and Vanilla Oleoresins are now more readily available through reputable suppliers and retailers, Vanilla Absolute is now taking a back seat though still available from some sources.
For more information about absolutes and how they are produced, see AromaWeb's article What is an Absolute?.
Common Method of Extraction
Plant Part Typically Used
Strength of Initial Aroma
Rich, warm, sweet vanilla aroma.
Vanilla Absolute Uses
Stress-induced conditions, nervous anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and restlessness, unexplained painful limbs, nervous stomach, nausea, inability to relax. [Valerie Ann Worwood, The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, 25th Anniversary Edition (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2016, 628.]
[Julia Lawless, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1995), 233.]
Tisserand and Young do not indicate any special precautions when using Vanilla Absolute or CO2. Reading Tisserand and Young's full profile is recommended. [Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 462-463.]
Important Information About the Profiles
The essential oil information provided on AromaWeb is intended for educational purposes only. The references to safety information, constituents and percentages is generalized information. The data is not necessary complete and is not guaranteed to be accurate. The essential oil photos are intended to represent the typical and approximate color of each essential oil. However, essential oil color can vary based on harvesting, distillation, age of the essential oil and other factors. Profiles for several absolutes are included within the directory, and are denoted as such.
General Safety Information
Do not take any oils internally and do not apply undiluted essential oils, absolutes, CO2s or other concentrated essences onto the skin without advanced essential oil knowledge or consultation from a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. If you are pregnant, epileptic, have liver damage, have cancer, or have any other medical problem, use oils only under the proper guidance of a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. Use extreme caution when using oils with children. It is safest to consult a qualified aromatherapy practitioner before using oils with children. For in-depth information on oil safety issues, read Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.
Essential Oil Book Suggestions
Click on a book's title to view details and read a full review for the book. Visit AromaWeb's Books area to find details about many other essential oil and aromatherapy books.
Own Safety Profiles for 400 Essential Oils and 206 Constituents:
Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals
Authors: Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young
The Complete Book Of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy
Author: Valerie Ann Worwood
The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness
Author: Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele
The Heart of Aromatherapy
Author: Andrea Butje