Tonka Bean Profile
Also known as
Dipteryx odorata (oderata) and Coumarouna odorata
The leguminous seed of the Tonka tree Dipteryx odorata, a large rainforest tree (growing to more than 120 feet high) native to South America and belonging to the pea family--have sometimes been used as a substitute for vanilla. Tonka beans have an incredibly sweet fragrance and flavor which is reminiscent of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves. Because it contains coumarin, which is suspected of being toxic and carcinogenic it is banned from being used as a food ingredient in the US. In addition to its historical use in flavoring cookies, cakes and cream dishes, Tonka beans are sometimes used to flavor snuff and pipe tobacco. It is still used as a food ingredient in France (especially in desserts), and at least one European candy company produces a tonka bean-flavored milk chocolate bar. In South America the bean paste is mixed with milk to make a sweet beverage, and has been thought to have aphrodisiac properties.
Coumarin, fats, and starch.
Whole beans are soaked in rum and then air dried, resulting in the formation of coumarin crystals that make the beans appear frosted. In Brazil tonka beans are sometimes found in extracts and compounded into medicine.
Tonka beans are relatively little known. The aromatic sweetness of the bean is similar enough to vanilla that it has occasionally been used as a substitute for it, but the US FDA strictly prohibits its use in food. One of its active constituents is coumarin, an anticoagulant which may be toxic to the liver and is suspected of being carcinogenic. The sweet fragrance has also made Tonka bean a popular ingredient in perfumes, soaps, incense, and colognes, and as a flavoring for snuff and pipe tobacco.
Taking Tonka bean in large amounts may trigger bleeding and affect the ability of blood to clot, and may also cause severe (yet reversible) liver damage. Not recommended for internal use. The FDA strictly prohibits the use of Tonka in food products.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.