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An exquisite spice: Rapunzel Tonka bean

Heavenly, mystical, wonderful - what smells so intense? The scent reminds of vanilla with a fine, tangy note. Do I smell bitter almond? Or even a hint of sandalwood? There is also a trace of marzipan and caramel.  

The fragrance is bewitching, calming and harmonizing at the same time. This must be a special spice: the Tonka bean. 

Heavenly, mystical, wonderful - what smells so intense?
Heavenly, mystical, wonderful - what smells so intense?

A look into botany

The seeds of the Tonka tree (Dipteryx odotora) are also often referred to as Tonka beans. The tropical Tonka tree belongs to the subfamily of the papilionaceous plants within the legume family. The tree is indigenous to the Northern regions of South America - its natural distribution includes Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and the Eastern Amazon regions of Brazil, Colombia and Peru.  
Today, the Tonka tree is also cultivated in Trinidad and in tropical Africa. The tree can grow up to 30 meters high while having a comparatively small trunk diameter of less than one meter. Its reddish brown wood that is also often called Brazilian teak is relatively heavy, stable and resistant to humidity. Therefore, the wood is often used as exterior building material, for boats and for floating docks. That is the major reason why the tree is cultivated in tropical regions. 
Tonka beans are the seeds of the Tonka tree (Dipteryx odotora).
Tonka beans are the seeds of the Tonka tree (Dipteryx odotora).
Tonka beans are the seeds of the Tonka tree (Dipteryx odotora).

Origin and processing

Origin and processing


Ovate drupes develop from many-flowered inflorescences. The drupes have an almond-shaped, hard pit, the Tonka bean. 

Rapunzel sources Tonka beans from Brazil and Venezuela where the fruit are harvested by indigenous people in the forest of the Amazon tributaries. 

After harvesting, the beans are dried in small drying houses until the pit can be easily separated from the fruit. The pit is then dried some more time until it has developed its typical wrinkled surface. The natural fermentation and the slow, gentle drying process result in a rich spectrum of aromas. This process takes several months. 
The first information of this exotic plant reached Europe through the French botanist and pharmacist Jean Baptiste Christophe Fusée Aublet.
The first information of this exotic plant reached Europe through the French botanist and pharmacist Jean Baptiste Christophe Fusée Aublet.

Historical facts


The first information of this exotic plant reached Europe through the French botanist and pharmacist Jean Baptiste Christophe Fusée Aublet. He described the Tonka tree in 1775 in his book about the flora of French Guiana. 

The seeds of the Tonka tree, however, have already been used long before Aublet's description. The indigineous people in French Guiana have used the Tonka bean as a traditional medicine against coughing, convulsions and nausea.  

Incomparable aroma


With its wrinkled surface, the Tonka bean for sure is not a natural beauty. All the more, it convinces with its inner values, the manifold aromas.

Its scent is sweet and aromatic. The flavor is reminiscent of vanilla and woodruff. Experts even detect hints of bitter almond and hay flower.

Regardless which aroma one detects: the Tonka bean has an intense flavor and can be used sparingly. When using the bean as a whole, it is best to use a nutmeg grater. More practical is the use of pre-ground Tonka. The Tonka powder can be easily dispensed. For many meals already a knife tip of Tonka is sufficient for an extravagant taste.  

Not only a spice


In South America, the Tonka bean is believed to have great magical and healing powers. Many people therefore wear a bean as an amulet against diseases. The shamans of South America's native people use the Tonka bean to ban evil spirits and to summon protective powers.

A bean in the wallet supposedly provides prosperity and success. In Venezuela, the Tonka bean was used as direct currency until 1940. Alexander von Humboldt also noticed the fragrant Tonka bean during his research journey. It occurred to him that fresh laundry in Venezuela had such a wonderful smell. The solution of the riddle: the women perfumed their scrubbing slurry with the seeds of the Tonka tree. 

Tonka is used until today as fragrance: in perfumes and cosmetics or for the aromatization of tobacco. Ground Tonka beans or Tonka oil is also used in aromatheray. 

It depends on the dosage


Similar to cinnamon or woodruff Tonka also contains coumarin. This substance accentuates sweet flavors and refines sweet dishes in a very harmonious way. 

Excess coumarin is potentially harmful. Legal regulations therefore define the maximum concentration for coumarin-containing substances in food products.

When the Tonka bean is used as spice, the coumarin causes no health problems because the used amounts are far below the recommended values. The intense flavor of Tonka also helps in this respect - a knife tip is enough to give meals a special aroma. Like always it depends on the right measure.

Many people might already be familiar with these recommendations when using cinnamon or woodruff: these spices should also be enjoyed in modest doses.  
Das ledrige Fruchtfleisch umhüllt den Kern, die Tonkabohne
Das ledrige Fruchtfleisch umhüllt den Kern, die Tonkabohne

Tonka in the kitchen


The crumpled bean makes its great appearance in the kitchen. Since the turn of the millenium, celebrity chefs have discovered the spice and use it for creative experiments.  

Already for a long time, chefs have been appreciating Tonka as baking spice, especially for christmas baking -  that often replaces vanilla. Tonka is also used in many dessert recipes.  

In the spicy cuisine, Tonka is used in a more experimental way. Here, Tonka is used to give tomato sauces, soups and potato dishes an exquisite note. 

Rapunzel & Tonka

Rapunzel's love affair with Tonka started some years ago in a restaurant at Lake Constance. Here, company founder and managing director Joseph Wilhelm tasted the wonderful Tonka bean aroma for the first time in a dessert. He couldn't forget this experience. 

During one of his visits to the HAND IN HAND partner and cocoa supplier El Ceibo in Bolivia, Joseph Wilhelm found the seeds of the Tonka tree that grew there. He pocketed one of the beans and was enthralled by its wonderful scent. How would it taste in a sweet bread spread? Or in chocolate? The first product ideas were born. 
It still took quite some time until the ideas could be implemented. Rapunzel wanted to use only Tonka beans from controlled organic cultivation - even if only small amounts were needed. With its Almond Tonka cream, Rapunzel brought an entirely new flavor into the organic health food stores. 

Today, Rapunzel offers several products with this exotic spice: pure Tonka powder, chocolate or Almond Tonka cream. And the Tonka family is growing: since October, Tonka sugar is marketed as an interesting alternative to vanilla sugar. We still have more ideas - let us surprise you. 
Tonka pudding powder
Tonka pudding powder
Tonka bean, ground
Tonka bean, ground
Tonka sugar with Cristallino, HAND IN HAND
Tonka sugar with Cristallino, HAND IN HAND
Almond Tonka cream
Almond Tonka cream
Milk chocolate almond-tonka, HAND IN HAND
Milk chocolate almond-tonka, HAND IN HAND

Recipes with Tonka


Plum cake with tonka and hazelnuts
Plum cake with tonka and hazelnuts
Tonka pudding with raspberries and almond and coconut granola
Tonka pudding with raspberries and almond and coconut granola
Tomato and carrot soup with Tonka
Tomato and carrot soup with Tonka
Brioche with macadamia filling
Brioche with macadamia filling
Apple Pie with almond and tonka bean
Apple Pie with almond and tonka bean
Quark soufflée with pear and tonka bean
Quark soufflée with pear and tonka bean
Crème Brulee with Tonka bean
Crème Brulee with Tonka bean
Amaranth-Tonka-Porridge
Amaranth-Tonka-Porridge
White chocoate with Almond- Amaranth Crispy cookies with Tonka
White chocoate with Almond- Amaranth Crispy cookies with Tonka
Classic plum cake, vegan
Classic plum cake, vegan
Spiced Pear walnut cake
Spiced Pear walnut cake
Samba tonka pudding
Samba tonka pudding
Chocolate mousse with bionella and tonka bean
Chocolate mousse with bionella and tonka bean
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