Last updated: August 17, 2021

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You can find them in ice cream parlours, star cuisine or in perfume - the exotic tonka bean has now also made a name for itself in Germany. The almond-shaped seeds of the tonka bean tree taste like a mixture of vanilla and woodruff. Their intensity is mainly used for desserts - but the tonka bean is also the it-piece of your spice kitchen in other areas.

In this article, we present six different tonka products that you can use to take your taste to the next level. Everything you need to know about using tonka beans to create the perfect culinary creation is presented below.




Summary

  • The tonka bean is the seed of a legume from South America. As a fashionable spice, it is often used as a substitute for vanilla and almond flavours. Cooked whole or added in powdered form, it develops a strong sweet and tart note.
  • Tonka beans contain the active ingredient coumarin, which is considered hazardous to health in high doses, but is valued for its aphrodisiac effect when used in normal doses.
  • The dried seeds are relatively expensive to buy, but their strong aroma makes them extremely productive and long-lasting, so the price is justified.

The Best Tonka Bean: Our Picks

Tonka beans come in a wide variety of forms and blends. Here we present you with the best products to get to know the variety of this spice:

Buying and rating criteria for tonka beans

Before buying tonka beans, it is important to do your research so that you can make the perfect choice for your purposes. If you are still in doubt about which type of tonka beans are right for you, you can use these criteria as a guide:

To support your choice, we explain here why these criteria are decisive.

Intended use

The use of tonka bean goes back to South American indigenous peoples. Although it has been used there for centuries to relieve stress, coughs and nausea, the exquisite bean has only recently arrived in European kitchens. Because of its intense flavour and high yield, the bean is often used as a vanilla substitute in desserts, biscuits or cakes.

The tonka note also provides unusual flavour variations in savoury dishes such as game stew or in alcoholic drinks such as gin. In the cosmetics industry, the spice is used in the production of perfume, for example. Essential oils that envelop an entire room in the scent are also very popular.

Form of presentation

The dried seed of the tonka fruit can be purchased as a whole bean, in powder form or as an oil extract. Due to the intensity of the spice, the tonka bean is best dosed in powdered form and used for cooking and baking.

They develop a particularly intense aroma when you grate them fresh. To do this, use a fine nutmeg grater or spice grinder. You can cook the tonka bean whole and reuse it up to ten times, as its aroma is very rich.

Quantity

Tonka beans are suitable as a substitute for vanilla beans due to their yield and are considerably cheaper. When using tonka beans, the correct dosage is the key.

"Small but mighty" applies to the tonka spice in the best sense. Even a tiny amount will give your dish a whole new flavour. Try homemade ice cream with a little tonka flavour! Even for frequent users, a bag of about 10 beans will last a long time.

Origin

The spice from the legume family is obtained from the mango-like fruits of the tonka bean tree, which grows mainly in northern South America.

The indigenous peoples of South America attributed magical powers to the seed of the ripe tonka fruit, and in Venezuela it was still possible to pay officially with the tonka bean until the 1940s. Venezuela and Nigeria are the main locations of the butterfly flower plant. But they are now also grown on the island of Trinidad, in Brazil and in Kenya.

Packaging

You should store the beans airtight in a spice tin and protect them from sunlight to guarantee their long shelf life. Freshly ground tonka beans develop the strongest aroma.

It is therefore a good idea to buy the dried seeds directly in a tin with a screw cap. For quick and easy use, you can also buy already ground tonka spice - preferably in a resealable package.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about tonka bean answered in detail

Here we explain why the tonka bean is not only a great vanilla substitute and what else you should know about the seeds of the tropical tonka fruit.

What are tonka beans?

The popular flavouring is obtained from the dried seeds of the ripe fruit of the tonka tree. The spice is primarily used for desserts, ice cream or pastries.

But the tonka bean aroma, which is said to have a hypnotic and eroticising effect, is also very popular when preserved in rum or as a fragrance in perfumes. You can definitely take your spice cuisine to the next gourmet level.

What are the benefits of tonka bean as a spice?

Due to its unique flavour, tonka bean can be used creatively. The mixture of woodruff, almond, hayflower and rum aroma is best used in your kitchen as a sugar addition in desserts such as parfaits, cakes, ice creams or puddings or as that certain extra in cocktails. But tonka seeds also work well in heartier dishes such as fish, game stew or cream soups.

The tonka bean also gives your homemade ice cream a unique taste. You can boil a whole bean in the milk that you want to use later to make the ice cream. (Image source: marcruiz / Pixabay)

Besides its use in cooking, the dried seed is even considered a natural remedy. The indigenous people of the Amazon rainforests, for example, use it to treat nausea, coughs, cramps and asthma. Modern aromatherapy also appreciates this effect: you can take the aroma of the tonka bean in essential oils to relieve stress.

And the spice has another decisive advantage: the eroticising effect of the tonka bean makes it a popular aphrodisiac.

Is the tonka bean poisonous?

The tonka bean contains a high proportion of coumarin. Coumarin, which is also found in cassia cinnamon, is an active ingredient that can damage the liver in high doses. However, the spice has been tested and approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). If you do not exceed the maximum daily consumption of 0.1 mg coumarin per kilo of body weight, you do not need to fear any damage.

In Germany, you can therefore only buy fermented tonka beans in which the coumarin content has been reduced to an approved level. One kilogram of tonka beans contains an average of 30mg coumarin - so tonka beans are safe for sparing use in the kitchen.

Conclusion

If you want to surprise yourself or your guests with an unusual taste experience, tonka bean is the right choice! You will achieve an aromatic revival with this spice not only in desserts, but also in hearty dishes such as game stew.

However, tact is required when it comes to the dosage: for a successful creation, pay close attention to the quantities in the recipe and use a suitable grater or grinder to crush the seeds. Then nothing will stand in the way of the aphrodisiac effect and your reputation as a kitchen connoisseur!

(Cover photo: Ingrid Balabanova / 123rf)

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