Food & Drinks

Why We Should be Turning to Tonka

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Why We Should be Turning to Tonka
Photo Fred Benenson/Flickr

It's been billed as the 'most versatile and delicious ingredient you've never heard of, ' it's beloved by French patissiers and perfumiers and banned in the USA.

But just how is the "sweet path of vanilla, with a slight fruity spice and sometimes an almond-caramel essence on the finish" of the tonka bean taking chefs by storm in the kitchen and seducing gastronomes on the menu?

Have you tuned into tonka?

The tonka bean is rather like an exotic vanilla replacement. Not much to look at, its inch long body is flat and wrinkled, rather like a hardened skinny prune. It comes from the cumaru tree in Central and South America.

“Tonka is less sweet than vanilla and much more complex and fragrant,” James Ransome tells The Indpendent, who sources tonka beans from Brazil to sell online through The Spicery. “Don't be deceived by the price tag, as a little goes a long way.”

What are chefs saying?

“It's a nice twist on the usual vanilla anglaise with apple tarte tatin, chef Angela Hartnett tells The Independent who serves a pear tarte tatin with a tonka bean crème anglaise at her London Mayfair restaurant Murano.

Tonka gives it a unique flavour,” she enthuses. “Amazingly the tonka stands out from the other spices – and enhances them.”  Anna Hansen at The Modern Pantry, in central London, goes on to tell the newspaper, she is using them for everything from infusing fruit syrups to adding to hazlenut croissants and making tonka mincemeat. 

"Tonka beans are fantastic. You can use them in sweet or savory applications, and the flavor is like a cross between almond and vanilla." Minnesota-based chef Erik Anderson, formerly of the Catbird Seat in Nashville told Food Republic.


If you live in the USA you night never get a chance to reach Tonka fever as it is banned for containing the substance 'coumarin' which is toxic when eaten in large quantitiess, that's to say if you were to eat around 30 beans according to The Atlantic.

Take a look at where Tonka Beans are from: 

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