5 things you didn’t know about Tonka beans:
1. Hailing from South America, tonka beans are the seeds of the large, tropical tonka tree.
2. Black and wrinkled in appearance, they have a fragrance similar to sweet vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.
3. Tonka beans are used to impart a vanilla flavour to foods, tobacco and perfumes, and are used in potpourri to lift one’s mood, which is where they got their nickname, “love beans”.
4. The beans are thought by South American locals to bring good luck and are often carried around in their pockets or wallets.
5. Despite being a fashionable ingredient in France (mostly in desserts, but also in stews), the seeds contain coumarin, which can be lethal in large doses. For this reason tonka beans are banned from foods in the USA and UK.
Spokeswoman for Food Standards Australia/New Zealand, Lydia Buchtmann, suggests that instead of eating tonka beans raw or ground into a powder, which could be dangerous, a safer option is to eat them cooked. The seeds were used in an episode of Masterchef Australia by Sydney pastry chef Adriano Zumbo. He says that tonka beans are to be respected and that in any recipe he only uses about a quarter of a single bean: “You’d have to eat a lot of them for it to be a problem,” he says.