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Tonka bean


Synonym: cumaru

botanical name: Dipteryx odorata




As the name suggests, the tonka bean belongs to the family of legumes (Leguminosae or Fabaceae). It is not really a bean, however, but rather the seed of the tonka tree.


Origin, areas of cultivation


The tonka tree grows in the tropical rainforests of Brazil, Venezuela, Guiana, French Guinea, Suriname, Peru and Colombia. It is also known as cumaru and reaches a height of up to 30 m.


Appearance, taste, characteristics


Outwardly, the fruits of the tonka tree look somewhat like olives the size of a fist. When they are cut open, however, this resemblance vanishes. Hidden under the thick skin is a white interior that seems to be streaked with pink veins. Within the fruit is a seed kernel. The pulp surrounding it is grey-green.


The seed, i.e., the actual tonka bean, is almond-shaped and brown, and very hard.


The scent of the tonka tree fruit is said to be sweet, hay-like, aromatic and very intensive. It is also said to have an inviting, hypnotic effect.


The tonka bean tastes slightly bitter. It has a sweet, heavy aroma that combines well with deserts. Tonka beans are frequently recommended in combination with, or as a substitute for, vanilla and bitter almond.


Harmful substances


Tonka beans contain an average of 1%-3%, some strains even up to 10% coumarin. This is suspected of being carcinogenic and also works as a blood thinner. In animal experiments, coumarin administered in large doses over long periods of time induced cancer in rats and mice. There is no evidence for the development of tumours related to coumarin in human beings.


In addition, even relatively small amounts of coumarin cause liver damage, including jaundice, which is reversible, however. For this reason, the use of tonka beans in Germany is permitted only subject to restrictions: The maximum quantities as determined by law are 2 mg/kg prepared food, or 10 mg/kg caramel sweets, 50 mg/kg chewing gum, and 10 mg/kg alcoholic beverages, and these may not be exceeded.



References - Tonka bean

-   (saved as pdf under references for part 2/coumarin; under copyright)


-   (saved as pdf under references for part 2/coumarin 2)

-           EU regulation on aromas, 2009







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