Coming from both Central and South America , a craze for tonka beans once took off in France in the past by the name of “fièvre tonka”. Fast forward to the 2000s, and it is regarded by the oblivious as simply a poor man’s vanilla. But do you know that tonka beans do stand for their own when it comes to fields of perfumery?
Known as the “Cumaru” or the “Brazilian Teak”, the flowering tree species Dipteryx Odorata produces fruits that contain a shiny, black and wrinkled seed, which we refer to as tonka beans. It is precious even back when, being used as currency in transactions until the 1940s. Tonka beans contain 1 to 3% of the chemical isolate 2H-Chromen-2-One, which was aptly named coumarin. Coumarin is responsible for the pleasant smell produced by the tonka beans, and is used in perfumery. It can achieve 10% in rare cases.
Bitter to the core, coumarin is fatal in large doses, with proven high concentrations of toxins that contribute to the cause of medical complications such as liver damage, heart paralysis, and hemorrhage. The FDA has heavily regulated its uses, and the US even bans its use as a food additive. Today, Venezuela is one of the main producers of tonka beans, which is light demanding and grows well on poor, well drained soils. Fresh fruits are handpicked in June and July, and the hard outer shell is removed so that the beans is spreaded out to dry for 2 to 3 days so that they can be sold.
Tonka bean absolute contains 90% coumarin, and depending on its amount, its scent can range from green grassy, to sweet tobacco almond, which is by all rights different from vanilla. As a heart note, the tonka bean’s multifaceted quality makes it difficult to attribute its qualities to simply a few words. It has soft and sweet nuances like the vanilla, but also has a balmy and woody undertone, which resembles a blend of dried hay, tobacco, and a strike of honey.
The tonka bean works well with spicy and sweet scents, but also produces great results blending with notes of rose, lemon, lavender, patchouli, and sandalwood.
The pleasant scent of the tonka bean is widely used to both calm the mind, and ward off negative thoughts. Even better, is that the aroma becomes increasingly noticeable through time.
Being capable of promoting relaxation, it is not uncommon for tonka bean scents to be used to relieve both stress and depression, and works well in promoting a healthy sleep cycle.
Being anti-spasmodic (suppresses muscle spasms), tonka bean scents are proven to be useful in relieving coughs and asthma.
The tonka bean acts as a strong anchor that grips and fixes fragrance in a mix, greatly enhancing fragrance tones and extending the duration of their aroma.
Synthetic vs Natural
Due to the hoo hahs surrounding trade secrets, perfume manufacturers are not obligated to disclose every single ingredient used in their products. Likewise, notes represent what the product should resemble in scent, not necessarily in content. Tonka bean is labor intensive to obtain due to its strict growing conditions. Moreover, due to the health risks from ingesting large amounts of coumarin, the FDA has declared its import and export illegal in some regions, making it harder to obtain for the general population.
Here, we present to you the S.L.A.P.- Pinpointers when it comes to identifying if a perfume containing tonka bean is synthetic or authentic. Do keep in mind that these pointers are applicable only when identifying for perfumes marketed as “natural”.
While there is no easy way to tell, having an experienced sense of smell is quintessential in identifying synthetics, or watered down bottles. The disparity between a pure natural extract, and the more alcoholic or artificial extracts is more than often obvious. On a side note, as tonka bean serves to enhance the aroma of the other notes, be careful when the scent comes off as too light, or “watered down”.
If a perfume is marketed with “using natural ingredients”, it should always have the scientific name of the element listed, and should be traced online with ease. If the name of the ingredient is not in Latin/ is in English instead (ex: Cedarwood instead of Cedrus Dedora); this is your cue to look elsewhere. The only tonka bean ever involved in perfumery is Dipteryx Odorata. If the scientific name written on the label was remotely something else, it is likely the manufacturer is trying to pass off something as natural tonka bean. Likewise, although a hassle, always cross check the list of ingredients contained online to tell if it contains toxic or harmful chemicals.
Please purchase from trusted sellers or fragrance houses.
As essential oils from natural ingredients are more labor intensive to source, it is expected for products of this nature to be expensive. If the disparity in ratio between the offered quantity and price is too apparent, be very wary that you may have bought a fake natural perfume. If your gut feeling or research makes it clear that the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
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