Tonka beans bring complex vanilla, coconut, sour cherry, clove and liquorice flavours. Tonka beans are flat, dark, wrinkled seeds from giant Cumaru trees in South America. Soft when harvested, tonka beans slowly dry out over months of storage. The almond-shaped seeds or beans become firm and easy to grate, like a nutmeg.
They offer an alternative flavour enhancement to using costly vanilla, there are an increasing number of breweries producing stouts flavoured with Tonka beans. In a similar fashion to vanilla they also bring complex aromas to deserts such as panna cottas and ice creams. Even infuse the beans into spirits and try mixing a tonka bean cocktail.
The bitter, aromatic tonka bean has been banned in various countries, including until recently the United States, with chefs smuggling it into the country to perfume their dishes. Tonka beans contain coumarin, which can be toxic if consumed in high quantities.