The University of Arizona

Present-Day Radiocarbon Content of Select Flavoring Compounds Reveals Vanillin Production Pathway

Randy A Culp, G V Ravi Prasad


Radiocarbon and stable isotope determination in foods, flavors, and beverages, for the authentication of source material and process of formation, is a well-established method of identity used in industry. New methods of provenance determination, using stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen, have added to the host of other isotopic methods used for characterizing natural or botanically derived products. The unambiguous determinant of a product’s fossil fuel origin be it from petroleum, natural gas, or coal, is through the measurement of its 14C content. The 14C content can also be used to determine the fraction dilution of recently grown and harvested material with that derived from fossil fuel, and even confirms the vintage of agricultural products based on the well-established decrease of bomb-produced atmospheric 14C. This paper documents 14C measurements at the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies accelerator mass spectrometry and stable isotope laboratories, over the last 3 yr, for 10 important flavoring compounds. By establishing an accurate and current level of 14C in botanically derived products, we were able to confirm a particular source for vanilla production, the most popular consumer flavor in the marketplace. Over the years, vanilla extract has been produced less and less from vanilla beans (Vanilla planifolia), particularly those from Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, and more from other botanical precursors such as ferulic acid, clove oil, and guaiacol. We report isotopic data to support this precursor for vanilla production based on high 14C levels accumulated during the tree’s life, incorporated in the tree rings and their associated stable isotope abundances.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16302


Radiocarbon, Stable Isotopes, Vanillin, Flavors

Full Text: