Both sweet and spicy, the versatile tonka bean
has become one of the basic ingredients of perfumery. As important as this little bean is, it however rarely gets the attention it deserves
Although relatively unknown, tonka bean is probably the most important gift that Central and South America has given to perfumery right after vanilla. Described as sweet, powdery and spicy, tonka seems to possess many of the attributes that are sought in a quality perfume.
The Aromatic Bean
The tonka bean tree is a tall tree, native to the tropical forests of Central and South America. The black and wrinkly bean somewhat resembles a dried vanilla pod, and tonka bean is indeed often used as a substitute for vanilla.
In addition to perfume, tonka bean has also been used for decades as a spice in cookery. Shavings of tonka are used, for example, to garnish desserts in French cooking.
Tonka Bean In Perfumery
Tonka bean is said to possess a scent similar to vanilla, but spicier. The sweet vanilla-like fragrance of the bean tends to have a character reminiscent of cinnamon, cloves, hay and even of tobacco. All these qualities make tonka bean a perfect complementary ingredient in different perfume formulations.
The fragrance of tonka bean is quite heavy and it is thus
most commonly employed as a base note. When combined with spicy and animalistic notes, tonka can help to tone down the most offensive aromas while providing a sweet and slightly spicy base for the other ingredients. This makes tonka bean a very popular ingredient in oriental perfumes.
On the other hand, tonka can also be a useful addition to fruity and floral perfumes. The vanilla-like character of the bean supports the lighter top and middle notes, while the hay and tobacco-like qualities provide an interesting base for the perfume.
Exemplary Tonka Perfumes
Tonka bean is often used as a complementary ingredient, which makes it challenging to find perfumes that truly capture the essence of this unique bean. While tonka is a little too fickly to stand on its own as the core note of a perfume, it can be paired successfully with other ingredients to form a true ‘tonka perfume’.
In the unisex fragrance Hermèssence Vétiver Tonka by Hermès, tonka has been paired with vetiver. The perfume opens up with a grassy and dark note of vetiver, which is quickly followed by sweet tonka bean, hazelnut and a hint of smoky tobacco. The balance of sour and spicy vetiver, sweet tonka bean, praline-like hazelnut and tobacco creates an intriguing and attracting effect. This fragrance is definitely not a gourmand perfume and has lots of sweet and creamy notes. Instead, it showcases the spicy and balancing character of tonka bean.
For a more gourmand perfume that still maintains a level of refinement, look for Guerlain’s marvelousTonka Impériale. Guerlain combines tonka with creamy almond, honey and amber, but also throws in a handful of rosemary and tobacco to cut down the sweetness. The result is a truly royal fragrance, suitable for the most special occasions.
To experience tonka’s true gourmand delight, try Thierry Mugler’s A*Men, also known as Angel Men. Here you can find tonka combined with lavender, coffee bean, vanilla, caramel and chocolate.A*Men has gained a reputation of a fragrance that you either love or hate, but in any case, it remains one of the best examples of an ultimate gourmand tonka perfume for those with a sweet tooth.