Tonka beans are fruit seeds of a big tree that grows in the west and south-east of Latin America under the name of Dypterix Odorata. Biggest exporters of tonka are Venezuela, Brasil, and Nigeria.

The process of extracting the scent matter out of tonka consists of picking up seeds, then drying them and drenching in alcohol or rum for 12 to 24 hours. When the seeds swell from the liquid, they are taken out of alcohol and dried again. Then they begin to shrivel and a crystal structure appears on their surface, the famous coumarin. That crystal layer is an indicator of the quality for most buyers, but that isn’t always true. The proper examination of tonka quality is a long and expensive process.

Tonka was once used as an aroma in meals and drinks, but after coumarin was banned for those purposes, it is only used to aromatize cigars and in the perfume industry. Tonka scent is known for its ability to mask many unpleasant smells and was often used in pharmaceutical industry when preparing potions that smell unpleasant, like fish oil or iodoform.

Tonka bean

Distilling tonka doesn’t give good results so the primary method of extracting scented oil is by dissolving it to tonka absolute. Tonka absolute is semihard cristal bulk, light brown-yellowish color. The scent is warm, rich and sweet, with a distinctive herbal-coumarin taste and abundance of dry plum and caramel subtones. Although coumarin has a majority stake in tonka absolute (20% – 45%), tonka isn’t used only for it, because synthetic coumarin exists in perfume market for around 100 years. Tonka absolute is special in many aspects and its extraordinariness cannot be understood just by adding its parts, coumarin including.

Tonka absolute is a fixative, meaning it makes perfume composition last longer on the skin. It is used when it is necessary to add sweetness and juiciness to a perfume if the perfumer doesn’t want to do that using floral components. It mixes nicely with chypre compositions, as well as oriental and powdery. The scent notes that harmonize perfectly with tonka are: bergamot, lavender, sage, cinnamon, heliotropin, geranium and many silicates and phenylacetates.

Perfumes known for their tonka scent are: Guerlain Tonka Imperial, Dior Addict, Thierry Mugler A*Men i Angel, Givenchy Amarige, Chanel Coco i Coco Mademoiselle, Versace pour Homme, Laura Biagotti Venezia, YSL Rive Gauche, Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male, Bvlgari Jasmin Noir, Dior Fahrenheit, Versace Blue Jeans, Azzaro Pour Homme, Victor & Rolf Antidote, Carolina Herrera Chic for Men, Calvin Klein Contradiction, Houbigant Fougere Royal, Guerlain Jicky, Joop Homme, YSL Kouros, Givenchy Pi, Lolita Lempicka and many others.

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