Last weekend a close friend who we have worked with for years asked if I was using Tonka Beans, I answered that I had never even heard of them. As soon as the dinner we were working together ended I looked them up and was instantly intrigued.
I read the beans are indigenous to South America and have a fragrance reminiscent of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves– Sounds like the perfect complement to endless cold weather desserts! I learned the beans are a common ingredient in France but were outlawed in the US in 1954 because they are a source of coumarin which was found to cause liver problems if ingested in impossibly large quantities. Since then it has been found that in addition to Tonka Beans coumarin occurs naturally in cinnamon, lavender, and licorice as well as in many other common ingredients. Upon concluding that they were safe I needed to get my hands on some. I expected this would be difficult but my first call to the wholesale company that I get a variety of specialty products from said they could deliver them the following morning.
The Tonka Beans I got were grown in Venezuela and packaged by a French Company. The aroma is intense– almond, vanilla, fruity and kind of caramel like. I immediately grated and tasted them, the aroma/flavor (hard to say where one starts and the other ends) is compelling– lots of ideas about how to use them! I will share the specifics about the first dessert I serve them with this weekend.