Definitions

tonka bean

tonka bean

[tong-kuh]
tonka bean, black-skinned, aromatic, almondlike single seed from the pod of any tall leguminous tree of the genus Dipteryx in the family Leguminosae (pulse family) of tropical South America. It contains coumarin, a fermented substance that has a vanillalike aroma and is used as a vanilla substitute and in the manufacture of perfumes, sachets, soaps, tobacco, and food. Natural coumarin has been almost completely replaced by a synthetic product. The name of the bean also appears as tonqua bean and tonquin bean. Plants producing tonka beans are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.
The tonka bean is the seed of Dipteryx odorata, a legume tree in the neotropics, of the Fabaceae family. The seed is black and wrinkled in appearance, with a smooth brown interior. It is known mostly for its fragrance, which is reminiscent of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon, and cloves: it has sometimes been used commercially as a substitute for vanilla. It is also sometimes used in perfume and was commonly used in tobacco before being banned.

The seed contains coumarin, which can be lethal in large doses. For this reason its use in food is banned in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many anti-coagulant prescription drugs are based on more powerful forms of coumarin.

The plant has its origin in Northern South America (Guyana, Orinoco region). Main producers today are Venezuela and also Nigeria.

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