RAW MATERIAL: Tonka bean

Dipteryx odorata (known as cumaru) is a flowering tree in from northern South America. Today, the main producers of the seeds are Venezuela and Nigeria. Kumarú is the word for tree in Tupi, in the region of French Guiana. The tonka bean is the seed from this tree. The beans are black, wrinkled and brown on the inside. They smell like vanilla similar to vanilla with a touch of almond, clove or cinnamon. The seed contains coumarin, which gives the seeds the great smell. The taste however, is bitter and eating coumarin can damage the liver.

Tonka beans are banned or subject to restrictions in several countries (for example use in food is forbidden in the US – probably because it affects coagulation). In others (like France), they are used in desserts as a vanilla substitute or to enhance the flavor in nuts or poppy, and in South America it seems it is used to create a specific aphrodisiac beverage. A google session will indicate that there seem to be a lot of chefs around the world who do like to experiment with this bean. And then they also appear in pipe tobacco and…in perfume.

The tonka bean has been considered to have both magical and medicinal powers. It has been used to cure depression, to boost the immune system, to cure snake bites and to treat coughs and rheumatism. The bean has been used for a long time for medicinal purposes among tribes in the Amazon. In occult traditions ceremonies that involve tonka beans are believed to help wishes come true. I also found recommendations to carry a bean in your pocket or bag for courage.

You will usually find tonka bean in an oriental fragrance, for example legendary Shalimar and Tonka Impériale (plus generally Guerlain), but also in fougères like previously mentioned Houbigant Fougère Royale. In Ellenas Hermessence series you cand find the fragrance Vetiver Tonka. If you are looking for more contemporary brands try Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford or A Taste of Heaven from By Kilian.

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