The flavour of the week comes from the "cumaru" or "kumaru", species of tree that is native to northern South America and the Brazilian rainforest. Its seeds are known as Tonka Beans. Their appearance is black and wrinkled with a smooth brown interior. Their fragrance and flavour is delicious; redolent of vanilla, cinnamon, cherries, and cloves. Tonka Beans can be used in food, cocktails, perfumery, and to flavour candies and chocolates. Tonka beans are most often grated to release their aroma and flavour.
The Tonka seed contains the chemical coumarin, which is responsible for its sweet aroma and flavour but also has been shown to create liver toxicity in lab rats. The chemical occurs in small amounts in the plant, however, and has not been shown to cause any damage in humans. Because of these inconclusive studies the ingredient is banned in many countries, including the USA. France however, is wild for the stuff, and uses it in everything from desserts to cocktails to flavouring tobacco.
Tonka Beans also have enjoyed a long history as a medicinal ingredient in the Amazon. They are purported to be effective in treating cough, colds, asthma, snakebites, and have been used as an antispasmodic. It is also purported to be an aphrodisiac. Kumaru trees can live to be over 1,000 years old.