Rainforest Plants – Tonka Bean

Family: Fabaceae

Genus: Dipteryx

Species: odorata

Common Names: cumaru, tonka, tonka bean tree, amburana, imburana de cheiro, tonquin bean, rumara, kumaru, cumaruzeiro, charapilla, charapilla del murcielago

General Description: The bean is a long seed from a Guiana shrub that grows in South America, specifically Guiana. This leguminous shrub is Dipteryx odorata, in the Fabaceae family. Tonka bean can be used as a vanilla substitute; however, it actually combines aromatic essences of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves, so the aroma is distinct.

Uses: The bean is used to alter vanilla extract and to flavor snuff, generally used as a mixture in each item. Tonka Bean is also used in the perfume business. It is used to add fragrance to emollients, including salves, creams, and oils, and for direct scenting of botanicals. Its use in the cosmetics industry is increasing because the seeds are so aromatic. After years of use in perfumes, the bean is also now beginning to make an appearance as a dessert flavoring in fine-dining menus.

The bean also has a place in the world of magic. Because of its sweet smell, it is used in love incantations and for building courage. In Mexico, this bean is mixed with vanilla to flavor food, but it is prohibited in the United States as a food ingredient, because it may cause liver damage.

The Tonka Bean is black and wrinkled. It is considered poisonous if used regularly or in large amounts; it is the source of Coumerin, a highly inhibitory plant hormone. Venezuela and Nigeria also now grow and export Tonka bean.

Disclaimer: The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Any reference to medicinal use is not intended to treat, cure, mitigate or prevent any disease.