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Turning pats into perfume.

March 26, 2010

Wouldn’t the world be a whole lot sweeter smelling if we could just turn our cow pats into sweet vanilla perfume? Well guess what? We can!

I first read about this a few years ago when a bunch of Japanese researchers carried out a massive recycling operation to extract vanillin, the main component of Vanilla fragrances from cow pats. At the time I just thought WOW but now, I am actually wondering what on earth they were doing digging around in pooh in the first place and so I started doing my own digging.

Well, it turns out that cows and other grass-eating animals have faeces that are rich in a chemical called Lignin. This lignin is a naturally occurring polymer and major component in wood, other leafy plants and even some algae.  Lignin has the kind of chemical structure that makes organic chemists rub their hands in glee. Lots of room to play, heaps of potential including the potential to create some sweet-smelling vanillin.

All it takes to turn yuck to yum is a little bit (OK, a lot) of heat and a fair bit of pressure. Not exactly childs play but a lot cheaper and easier than trekking through  Madagascan or Indonesian plantations in the tropical heat to hand-pick, steam and then sun-the pods for two weeks.  Cheaper but possibly not the kind of thing that you want in your ice cream.

It’s stories like this that get me pretty excited about the future of perfumery. The quest to build complex perfumes from completely natural aroma chemicals is on as chemists seek to excite our senses while respecting the need to tread lightly on the environment.   The future smells sweet, thanks cows!

One Comment leave one →
  1. cathie permalink
    March 27, 2010 2:05 pm

    that is the ultimate recycling. Imagine being in the fragrance counter asking the assistant what the origin of the oriental base of the perfume you are trying is…she replies, It’s shit madam!

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