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Dipteryx odorata

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Dipteryx odorata
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Genus: Dipteryx
D. odorata
Binomial name
Dipteryx odorata

Coumarouna odorata Aubl.
Coumarouna tetraphylla (Benth.) Aubl.
Dipteryx tetraphylla Benth.

Dipteryx odorata

Dipteryx odorata (commonly known as "cumaru", "kumaru", or "Brazilian teak") is a species of flowering tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. The tree is native to Northern South America[1] and is semi-deciduous.[2] Its seeds are known as tonka beans (sometimes tonkin beans or tonquin beans). They are black and wrinkled and have a smooth, brown interior. They have a strong fragrance similar to sweet woodruff due to their high content of coumarin.

The word tonka is taken from the Galibi (Carib) tongue spoken by natives of French Guiana; it also appears in Tupi, another language of the same region, as the name of the tree. The old genus name, Coumarouna, was formed from another Tupi name for the tree, kumarú.[3]

Many anticoagulant prescription drugs, such as warfarin, are based on 4-hydroxycoumarin, a chemical derivative of coumarin initially isolated from this bean. Coumarin itself, however, does not have anticoagulant properties.[4][5]

Biology of the tree[edit]

The tree grows up to 25–30 m (82–98 ft), with a trunk of up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) in diameter.[6] The tree bark is smooth and gray, whereas the wood is red.[7] The tree has alternate pinnate leaves with three to six leaflets, leathery, glossy and dark green, and pink flowers. Each developed fruit contains one seed. D. odorata is pollinated by insects. The worst pests are bats because they eat the pulpy flesh of the fruit. A few known fungi may cause problems: Anthostomella abdita, Diatrype ruficarnis, Macrophoma calvuligera and Myiocopron cubense.[6]

Radio-carbon dating of D. odorata stumps left by a large logging operation near Manaus by Niro Higuchi, Jeffrey Chambers, and Joshua Schimel, showed that it was one of around 100 species which definitely live to over 1,000 years (specifically an age of 1400 years being claimed for this and the unrelated Cariniana macrantha). Until their research, it had been assumed unlikely that any Amazonian tree could live to old age due to the conditions of the rain forest.[8]


The tonka seed contains coumarin, a chemical isolate named after the plant. The seeds normally contain about 1 to 3% of coumarin, but can rarely achieve levels up to 10%.[6] Coumarin is responsible for the seed's pleasant odor and is used in the perfume industry. Coumarin is bitter to the taste. In large infused doses, it may cause hemorrhages, liver damage, or paralysis of the heart.[6] It is therefore controlled as a food additive by many governments.[citation needed] Like a number of other plants, the tonka bean plant probably produces coumarin as a defense chemical.[citation needed]

The smooth brown inside of the tonka bean


Tonka beans have been used as a source of natural coumarin, and, after its synthesis in the 1940s, artificial coumarin became one of the first artificial flavoring agents as a vanilla substitute.[9] The FDA has considered foods containing tonka beans adulterated[10] since 1954[11] because coumarin has shown toxicity in extremely high concentrations. Despite the ban on its use in foods, the product has been frequently imported into the United States by gastronomic enthusiasts.[9][12] There have been calls for removing the restrictions on the use of tonka beans in food in the US similar to the successful deregulations of mangosteens and absinthe in the early 21st century;[12] the regulations are criticized as unreasonable due to the unlikelihood of consuming enough coumarin to cause ill effects and due to the presence of coumarin in unregulated foods.[11] Coumarin is also present in lavender, cinnamon, licorice, strawberries, and cherries.[13]

In France, tonka beans are used in cuisine (particularly, in desserts and stews)[11][9] and in perfumes. The flavor has been described as a complex mix of vanilla, almond, clove, cinnamon, and amaretto.[13] Yves Rocher[14] uses them in their men's perfume Hoggar, for example, and they are still used to flavor some pipe tobaccos, such as Samuel Gawith "1792 Flake."[15]

Many anticoagulant prescription drugs, such as warfarin, are based on 4-hydroxycoumarin, a chemical derivative of coumarin initially isolated from this bean. Coumarin, however, does not have anticoagulant properties.[4][5]

The beans were formerly also spelled "tonquin"[16] and "tonkin,"[17] although neither the tree nor the beans have any connection with Tonkin, which is now part of Vietnam.


Today, the main producers of tonka beans are Venezuela and Nigeria. The cumaru tree is a light-demanding calcifuge tree which grows on poor, well-drained soils. The best growth is reached on fertile soils rich in humus. In the native region there is a mean annual temperature of 25 °C and about 2,000 mm (80 in) rainfall per year, with a dry season from June to November.[18] In general, it has a very low plant density, but depending on the agricultural use, the density and the age of the trees diversify. In seed production systems, the plant density is higher and the trees are older than in timber production systems.[18] The tree flowers from March to May, and the fruits ripen from June to July.[6] So, the fresh fruits are picked up in June and July, and fallen pods are harvested from January to March[6] or sometimes earlier.[7] The hard outer shell is removed and the beans are spread out for 2–3 days to dry, after which they can be sold.[6] The major producer is Venezuela, followed by Brazil and Colombia. The most important importing country is the US, where it is used especially in the tobacco industry.[6]

Social aspects[edit]

This species is well known locally and generates an important income for rural families, particularly as a buffer in times of hardship.[7] It is used for timber and nontimber products. The yield of beans per tree is about 1.0–3.5 kg per year, but cumaru trees produce a large volume of seeds every four years.[7]


  1. ^ Jang, Dae Sik; Park, Eun Jung; Hawthorne, Michael E.; et al. (2003). "Potential Cancer Chemopreventive Constituents of the Seeds of Dipteryx odorata (Tonka Bean)". Journal of Natural Products. 66 (5): 583–587. doi:10.1021/np020522n. PMID 12762787.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Semi-deciduous Forest". cristalinolodge.com.br. Cristalino Lodge. Archived from the original on 2020-07-30. Retrieved 2019-10-22.
  3. ^ "Warfarin, Molecule of the Month for February 2011, by John Maher". www.chm.bris.ac.uk. Retrieved 2023-12-20.
  4. ^ a b Goldman, Mitchel P.; Guex, Jean-Jérôme; Weiss, Robert A., eds. (2011). Treatment of Varicose and Telangiectatic Leg Veins (5th ed.). Mosby. ISBN 9780323073677.
  5. ^ a b "Coumarin". sciencedirect.com. 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Duke, James A.; duCellier, Judith L. (1993). CRC Handbook of Alternative Cash Crops. CRC Press. pp. 238–239. ISBN 9780849336201.
  7. ^ a b c d Shanley, Patricia; da Serra Silva, Murilo; Melo, Tadeu; et al. (2012). "From conflict of use to multiple use: Forest management innovations by small holders in Amazonian logging frontiers". Forest Ecology and Management. 268 (268): 70–80. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2011.05.041.
  8. ^ Lewington, Anna; Parker, Edward (1999). Ancient Trees: Trees that Live for a Thousand Years. London: Collins & Brown. p. 64.
  9. ^ a b c Gorvett, Zaria. "The delicious flavour with a toxic secret". BBC.com. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  10. ^ "2006 CFR Title 21, Volume 3". Retrieved 2009-07-06.
  11. ^ a b c DeLorenzo, Ike (2010-11-03). "The Tonka Bean: An Ingredient So Good It Has to Be Illegal". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  12. ^ a b "When Banning a Food Makes It Sweeter". tastecooking.com. 2018-02-13. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  13. ^ a b Sula, Mike (December 19, 2017). "It's Illegal to Cook with Tonka Beans in the U.S., but Chefs Do it Anyway". plateonline.com. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  14. ^ "Hoggar Eau de toillette". yvesrocher.ca. Yves Rocher.
  15. ^ "Samuel Gawith - 1792 Flake". TobaccoReviews.com.
  16. ^ Gaskell, Elizabeth (1851). Cranford.
  17. ^ "Ate His Chop in Solitude: Tennyson's Aloofness Respected by Fellow Diners at Restaurant He Patronized". The Mt. Sterling Advocate. Mt. Sterling, Kentucky: Harris and Mason. October 6, 1909 – via newspapers.com.
  18. ^ a b Herrero-Jáuregui, Cristina; Sist, Plinio; Casado, Miguel A. (2012). "Population structure of two low-density neotropical tree species under different management systems". Forest Ecology and Management. 280 (208): 31–39. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2012.06.006.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hanson, Thor (2015). The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465048724.

External links[edit]