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What is tonka bean

24 mayo, 2021

The range of spices and other aromatic products that we can use in the kitchen is enormous, and it is becoming easier and easier to find certain varieties of which until recently we did not even know about their existence. That is what has happened to me with the tonka bean, whose exotic name surprised me when I first found it in a recipe, but which has become another ingredient in many pantries.

The tonka bean is actually the seed of the tree Dipteryx odorata, from the Fabaceae family, native to the lands bathed by the Orinoco in tropical America. The term tonka It seems to come from the language spoken by the natives of French Guiana, with France being the first western country to import these seeds. It began to be used as a flavoring for tobacco, but it soon became a common ingredient in confectionery and cosmetics.

They are elongated seeds, of a size that usually does not exceed two centimeters, covered by a rough black layer, which hides, like a shell, a lighter colored interior with a hard rubbery texture. Have a pungent aroma with different nuances that may be reminiscent of other spices.


In 1868 it was discovered that this seed contains coumarin, a chemical compound that in large doses can affect blood clotting, so a high consumption can be fatal. For this reason its use in food is prohibited in some countries such as USA, although in Europe it can be found without problems in specialized spice stores.

Uses in the kitchen

Tonka bean

When it comes to cooking with it, the tonka bean stands out above all in the preparation of sweet preparations, from cookies and cakes to ice cream or creams, and it is especially interesting in its combination with chocolate. It is also becoming a star ingredient in the creation of cocktails and even in savory dishes devised by great chefs.

As with nutmeg, the aroma that tonka bean provides will be deeper the fresher the seed. Ideally, buy a small amount of beans at a time and store them whole in an airtight container. To use it, just grate it at the moment of the preparation, or use it whole to infuse liquids.

Personally, as a lover of spicy aromas, your interesting mixture of nuances conquered me since I split the first bean to grate it. It is reminiscent of mixtures of cinnamon and cloves, with a slightly spicy touch and a background of nuts. I recommend you try this seed in your usual recipes if you like to discover new aromas, and vary a little from the typical vanilla

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