Tonka Fruit aka Tonka Bean in Trinidad

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As a child growing up in Trinidad, I was exposed to many fruits. One of my favorites was the tonka bean. In Trinidad the children used to say 'tanka bean' instead of 'tonka bean'; of course, referring to the tonka fruit as 'tonka bean' is incorrect since the 'tonka bean' is the seed of the tonka fruit! I still believe they pronounce it as 'tanka bean' today. It took me a while to eat this fruit because initially I was told that if I ate the fruit that I would get "short breath".  The term "short breath" in Trinidad meant that one would become winded very easily especially when running. Now you can understand a child's dilemma to eat or not eat this fruit! Have you ever met a child who does not like to run? As it turned out I was a gullible child because my friend who told me this story loved to eat the fruit. Yes, I gave him my Tonka fruit which he ate and surely enjoyed! Now don't laugh because this story was widespread so I believed it... Then one day, I decided to try the fruit. Oh my goodness... The Yummy factor sent my taste buds crazy. I fell in love with that fruit and went into competition with my scheming friends for the ripe fatty ones. Tonka fruit has a very distinct odor and very unique taste - I loved eating the Tonka fruit!

I recalled a conversation with my father-in-law about the tonka fruit (tonka beans) and he reminded me that the bats loved the ripe tonka beans and that solved the question about the tonka bean found in yards with parts bitten off - the bats were feasting!.

The Botanical name for the Tonka Bean is Dipteryx odorata. There are other uses for the fruit especially the seed; it is used as a fixative in perfumery and a fatty substance called taquin butter is extracted and used as a bug repellent. However, the use of the seed in food has been banned in the United States because it is an anticoagulant {Coumarin (1-3%). Those of you who have not tried the tonka bean should attempt to taste it at least one time. I am not saying to go and chew the Tonka beans (black wrinkled bean) but at least try the pulp that surrounds the seed.

The other memory that came to mind was how we ate the tonka fruit - very similar to a very ripe and sweet mango. We sucked everything from the seed leaving the fibrous remains on the seed. Now here is the cool part, we shaped the fibrous remain like a Mohawk and allowed it to dry - childhood days were the best!

The following information was sourced from the Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | 2008
'Tonka bean, black-skinned, aromatic, almond-like single seed from the pod of any tall leguminous tree of the genus Dipteryx in the family Leguminosae ( pulse family) of tropical South America. It contains coumarin, a fermented substance that has a vanilla-like aroma and is used as a vanilla substitute and in the manufacture of perfumes, sachets, soaps, tobacco, and food. Natural coumarin has been almost completely replaced by a synthetic product. The name of the bean also appears as tonqua bean and tonquin bean. Plants producing tonka beans are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae." via


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Anonymous said…
the tree shed their leaves after the dry season.the "green skinned"ripe tonka fruit is more tasty,than when the skin gets brown,i bought some in port of spain sometime in early 2022.a small amount,about a "pinch"of grated tonka bean is used in making fruit cake for christmas