Discover: Tonka Bean
You may not have heard of tonka beans, but there’s something familiar about its unique scent.
Heady magnolia, musky clove, enchanted forests and with a freshness of coconut and sweetness of Morello cherry: tonka has been used by the perfume and cosmetic industries for years.
With its hard-black lacquered exterior wrinkled like a prune it’s not going to win a beauty contest, but its flavour is magical and takes your taste buds to places that the familiar vanilla pod simply can’t.
Cultivated from the giant cumaru tree most frequently in Nigeria and Venezuela, the seeds are removed from their outer casing, sometimes soaked in rum and then left to dry and ferment; a process which creates a chemical compound called 'coumarin' and it is this that gives the tonka its knockout flavour. But life is not entirely rosy for this superstar ingredient – the presence of coumarin has resulted in it being banned from the USA due to its toxicity. In fact, only extremely high levels of tonka consumption would result in the dangerous toxicity levels being achieved: phew!
It was the French pâtissiers who first started experimenting with tonka, infusing it with milk and cream before making desserts such as crème brulee or ice cream (a process that we use when making our Vanilla and Tonka Bean Chewy Caramels). In recent years tonka has become more mainstream and its usage extended. You now find this ballsy bean in cocktails, bread, mayonnaise and even stews. Supermarkets are also getting in on the action with our beany hero now being found in luxury desserts.