The Tonka Bean


The tonka bean ( is to my knowledge not used in Canadian cooking very often. I was pretty excited when I first got to work with it as it was something I had not previously been exposed to before. The last restaurant I worked in was the first and so far the only time I have had any exposure to it.

I love being experiencing new ingredients as it always reminds me how many interesting and intriguing ways you can be inventive with your creations.


It has a fabulous smell similar to woodruff and vanilla, with hints of amaretto. It is fairly popular. ( )


The tonka bean is originally from South America ( ) and grows on a flowering tree.

    tonka-bean-tree.jpg                               6554545.jpg

It is a small black wrinkled bean in the legume family. It has a smooth interior very similar to that of nutmeg.


I believe it is less popular in North America, mostly because it is is illegal in the US. Its actually funny that it is illegal in the first place, the bean contains high amounts of coumarin which is a naturally occurring chemical found in high levels in the tonka bean and can be toxic to the liver in high amounts.


However the amount needed to cause toxicity would be the equivalent to 80 beans. That’s an amount that would never be consumed. Cinnamon, lavender, and licorice also contains levels of coumarin. Nutmeg is also toxic in similar high amounts and is evidently legal. However it is not illegal in Canada which is great for us because it is very tasty.

I have had the chance to work with it in my last workplace where they made Lady Fingers flavoured with tonka.

There are many uses for this bean including mixed drinks (, perfumes, and desserts (, this dessert for tonka panna cotta with pear compote looks great!

This recipe for tonka flavoured icecream sounds amazing!


Tonka Bean Icecream with Scotch Caramel Swirl

For the Icecream

1 quart half and half (or 2 cups each milk and heavy cream)

1 cup sugar

2 small or 1 very large tonka bean

6 egg yolks

For the Caramel

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean

1/4 cup scotch

1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half

For the Ice Cream Base: Combine half and half with sugar in medium saucepan. Grate tonka bean into liquid with microplane. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to be sure sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Place yolks in medium mixing bowl. Whisking constantly, pour half-and-half mixture into bowl with yolks, then scrape mixture into saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with spatula and scraping bottom often to prevent curdling. Once thick enough to coat spatula, remove from heat and strain immediately through fine mesh strainer. Chill over ice, then place in a lidded container and allow to rest overnight in the refrigerator.

  • 2.

For the Caramel: Place sugar, water, and salt in medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Allow to come to a boil, then watch carefully until sugar begins to caramelize. Gently swirl to promote even caramelization. Once caramel reaches a dark honey color, remove from heat. Allow to darken slightly more off the heat to almost the color of maple syrup. Slowly and away from yourself, drizzle in scotch and cream. It will bubble and sputter and your caramel will seize so be careful. Place over low heat, whisking gently every few minutes, until seized caramel is fully melted. Set aside and allow to cool. Chill thoroughly before churning ice cream.

  • 3.

When you’re ready to churn, pour chilled base into ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. When ice cream is ready, pack a thin layer into the bottom of a heavy duty plastic or metal container, then drizzle with caramel. Repeat until all ice cream and caramel has been layered into container. Freeze at least 1 hour until firm.


The recipe can be found here (

Baking with tonka is certainly a treat. They can be purchased from a Calgary based company here (


Happy Baking.


Thanks for reading,




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