Tonka Bean

Tonka beans are the seeds of the tonka bean tree, which belongs to the legume family. The almond-shaped, dark brown to black fruits are used as a spice – the taste of the tonka bean is very sweet and is reminiscent of vanilla, liquorice, and bitter almonds. The seeds are therefore often used in baking, for example to flavor the classic vanilla crescent. Whether the tonka bean is healthy depends on the dosage. The naturally occurring coumarin can damage the liver in large quantities. However, it is reduced in the production of the spice through fermentation. If you want to rule out any adverse effects of the tonka bean, you should take in a maximum of 0.1 milligrams of coumarin per kilogram of body weight per day. It should be noted: Tonka beans contain approx. 2-4% coumarin with an average weight of 1.2-1.7 g per bean. According to the authority, this value of 0.1 mg coumarin per kilo body weight, as set by the Federal Office for Risk Assessment (BfR), can also be exceeded once without the tonka bean causing side effects of a serious nature. Still, use tonka beans as sparingly as possible.

Purchasing and storage

You can get dried tonka beans from us all year round in supermarkets with well-stocked spice shelves and on the Internet. You can buy the shriveled-looking seeds whole and pulverize small amounts with a fine kitchen grater. If you want to save yourself this work – the fruit is very hard – you can buy ground tonka beans. Another flavoring product is tonka bean paste. The basis here is sugar in the form of glucose or rice syrup, which is flavored with ground tonka beans. Like all spices, it is best to store the whole or ground variants in a cool, dry, and protected from light: screw-top jars or tightly sealable cans are ideal.

Cooking tips for tonka bean

Most tonka bean recipes include desserts, such as the traditional Jewish pastry Hamantaschen. Tonka bean desserts are also popular and easy to make. If you boil the whole fruit in coconut milk or cream, for example, the smell of the tonka bean permeates the entire kitchen – and gives a creamy dish a special aroma. You can even reuse the spice several times afterward: simply rinse and let dry. The tonka fruit is also ideal for flavoring spreads. Try our apple jam with grated tonka bean. In the hearty kitchen, it is worth giving sauces and soups that special extra with the spice. The taste goes well with fish and seafood, among other things. Important to know: It is best to start with finely dosed amounts, as the intense aroma is very dominant.

Why are tonka beans illegal in US?

When studies showed that high levels of coumarin, the flavour compound in tonka beans, were leading to hepatotoxicity in dogs and rats (chemical driven liver damage), the FDA chose to outright ban the beans from commercial use.

Is tonka bean the same as vanilla?

If one were to compare it to vanilla, the smell of tonka bean is not as overpoweringly sugary. Rather than being creamy-sweet, tonka bean has a more neutral sweet tone with nuanced notes of cinnamon spice, almond, cherry, and sweet hay.

Why are tonka seeds illegal?

Tonka beans—an ingredient that people have used for centuries to add a vanilla-almond note to cakes, custards, ice creams, and even chicken—have been illegal since 1954 because they contain coumarin, a chemical compound found in cinnamon.

What is tonka bean good for?

Despite serious safety concerns, people take tonka bean as a tonic; to increase sexual desire (as an aphrodisiac); and to treat cramps, nausea, cough, spasms, tuberculosis, wasting due to chronic disease, swelling caused by a blockage in the lymph system (lymphedema), and a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis.

How toxic are tonka beans?

Tonka beans have an intense flavour that chefs and food manufacturers have enthusiastically embraced. There’s just one problem – it contains a chemical that could, in large enough doses, kill you.

How many tonka beans are poisonous?

The reality is that it would take the equivalent of 30 whole tonka beans for the coumarin levels to become dangerous — and as the shavings of a single bean stretch to round 25-50 servings, cooks shouldn’t lose too much sleep over it.

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