Vitamin C used to detect the presence of Vanillin

[Markus Bindhammer] recently made a discovery while conduction chemistry experiments in his home lab. Ascorbic acid can be used to detect the presence of Vanillin. The reaction starts as a color change, from a clear liquid to a dark green. When he continued to heat the mixture he ended up with the surface crystallization seen above.

Vanillin is an organic compound which you will commonly find in vanilla extract, with the synthetic variety being used in imitation extract. Ascorbic acid is a type of vitamin C. When [Markus] first observed the color change he though it could be due to metallic contamination, but running the experiment again without the use of metal tools or probes, produced the same result.

You can see in the clip after the break that it doesn’t take long to turn green. The vanillin must be heated to 130 degrees C before adding the ascorbic acid or the color change will not occur. He believes this can be a reliable way to detect the presence of Vanillin in a substance.


  1. macw says:

    This doesn’t distinguish between synthetic and natural vanillin, right? So not a useful method for identifying real vs. fake vanilla extract. Cool anyway though.

    • Heph says:

      The difference between Real and Fake vanillin (C3H8O3) is that one is made in a fruit and the other in a chemical reactor.

      To distinguish natural from industrial vanilla you have to look out for other chemicals that naturally occur in Vanilla. A few like Lignin arent that good for that since they are the base for synthetic vanilla.

      One could postulate that industrial Vanilla is cleaner then Natural so you could maybe look out for the Inpurity content.

      • Mike says:

        +1 for the post. Clear, concise, cogent, pertinent.
        +1 for the story. It’s nice to see “science” being done, at home, with real results. “Crowd Science”?
        Hey, I wonder if Ascorbic Acid and Vanillin are in the Open Source Substances Spectroscopy wiki (mentioned in a previous article on home-made spectrometer…)? If not, they will be, soon.

  2. tehoo says:

    I can’t watch the video, so excuse me if it’s explained, but why is being able to detect Vanillin important?

  3. Chris C. says:

    This is using 5g of pure vanillin, which is a lot. Vanilla extract only contains 0.1% vanillin or so, most substances one might want to test would contain less. 130°F precludes the possibility to do this in water solution, as well as some other solvents.

    Chemistry experts, is this really a practical test?

  4. Barefoot says:

    So, I have to heat up my tapioca pudding and then add Vit-C to make sure moms put vanilla in. Check.

    (Other than this, I am completely clueless as to why one would need to detect the presence of vanillin?)

  5. Brandano says:

    I doubt that it would be a practical test on its own. Probably the same result will turn up with any sort of analogues of vanillin and ascorbic acid. I’d be surprised if the reaction was specific. Incidentally, vanillin is vanillin, wheter produced synthetically or extracted from vanilla. What might vary is the presence of other substances in artificial vanilla flavoring. Oh, and I believe both substances have two specular forms, so it’s probably possible to distinguish the natural version from the synthesized through polarimetry, the synthesized version being constituted of 50% of either variation.

  6. joelfinkle says:

    Yeah, not useful for home chefs… but I wonder if it would also detect capsaicin, which is closely related.

    That would be useful… although again it’s something often water soluble.

  7. words says:

    while conduction chemistry experiments -> while conducting chemistry experiments?

  8. morganism says:

    Heads up here folks.

    Vit C in contact with benzoate will produce benzene.
    Don’t know if it is sodium benzoate, or potass, or both.

    Think it only has to be above 80f too.

    so all those fruit juices you are drinking to be healthy are cooking your goose.

    this was a published paper, and was directed straight to NIH, but no follow thru’s or warnings to parents either.

  9. Timmay says:

    If I want to know if something contains vanilla, I just lick it.

  10. I’m more interested in what he’s using to produce that flame.

  11. threepointone says:

    Might want to look up TLC stains. Apparently Vanillin is used in this technique to detect a variety of chemical compounds. I know almost nothing about TLC stains, but it looks like it’s used (uncommonly) in organic chemistry. So maybe an orgo chemist can say more?

  12. dbear says:

    What’s cool about this is he can do chemistry at home and not be immediately branded a drug manufacturer or a terrorist.

  13. Nico says:

    Small correction: ascorbic acid is not “a type of vitamin C”. It’s vitamin C.

  14. Necromant says:

    Finally! A hack with no arduino involved!

  15. The Geekiest Guy says:

    This really was a neat find, thanks HaD. Now I’ll just use an arduino to calculate heat time etc. just for the people that are like “yay, a no arduino hack”… ^ j/k
    I’m going to go show this to my old chem teacher tomorrow.

  16. wardy says:

    Applications as a new kind of invisible ink perhaps?

    Hmm, does it resist ferric chloride? :)

  17. GlaDOS says:

    The results of the test are unimportant compared to the testing itself. We must always continue testing. For science.

  18. torcue says:

    Usefulness: reverse engineering food
    Next week: Coca-Cola EULA

  19. Jim says:

    Well, I am an organic chemist. Most likely what is happening is the vanillin is forming a dimer called vanilloin. You would need to use IR spectroscopy or mass spectroscopy to be definitive. Vanillin is used to generate color in a few organic or biochemical analyses.

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