What Does Tonka Bean Smell Like? [Ultimate Scent Guide]

Written By Zarin Tasnim

Tonka bean is one of those accords whose delightful ambiance gives a fragrance character and a touch of warmth. But, we often mix up its aura with other ingredients.

Now the question is, what exactly tonka bean smells like?what-does-tonka-bean-smell-like

To me, sometimes it resembles almond or vanilla, and occasionally a subtle mixture of both.

That’s why I dug deeper and collected all the nooks and crannies I could about tonka bean and jotted them down in this context for you. So, keep reading till the end.

What Is Tonka Bean?

Tonka bean is the seed of Dipteryx Odorata (tonka bean tree). Also known as coumarouna, coumaru, or sarrapia. You need to harvest and go through several processes to obtain this amazing-smelling bean.

Do you know what scent family is tonka bean?

It is the origin of the fern fragrance family. In the Amazon region tonka is the symbol of love, and happiness, and the locals wear jewelry believing in its protective and beneficial power.

Due to its warm and intoxicating aroma, it slowly came into the perfume world and has been reigning ever since.

Now you know what tonka bean is, but it remains incomplete without knowing its ancestry.

The origin of Tonka Bean

Tonka beans are found in the tropical rainforests of Central America and many parts of South America, such as Brazil, Mexico, Guyana, and Venezuela.

It has been used in Latin American cuisine for centuries. Then in 1973, the French first came across and fell in love with its sensual aura.

Soon its popularity became an obsession which the French called, “fièvre tonka” or “tonka fever.”

Tonka beans are also known as coumarin though it is a chemical found in tonka seeds.

Chemists isolated coumarin from tonka beans in 1820. This ingredient is mainly responsible for the unique taste and smell. In 1882, tonka bean was first used in Fougère Royale by Houbigant. That’s how it came to the world of perfumery.

In the early 1900s, tonka bean took over perfumery because of its complex yet rich aroma. And even in the tobacco industry, its powder was used vividly.


However, tonka beans also have an unfavorable history!

In 1954, the FDA banned any food containing coumarin in the United States, as it can damage the liver and heart if consumed in extreme quantities.

Thus tonka bean became an illegal food ingredient in the USA. However, it is often used in making perfumes. That’s why, still today, they are the biggest tonka bean importer in the world.

What Does Tonka Bean Smell Like?

The smell of tonka bean is very pleasant with its sweet, woody, spicy, and nutty composition. It also smells smoky with a hint of tobacco and is somewhat herbaceous. So, coumarin is warm, welcoming yet complex in one word.

There is a blend of different flavors in the scent of tonka bean which makes them so special and coveted. No wonder, it is one of the most sought-after ingredients in the perfume industry for both men’s and women’s fragrances.

So let’s find out what tonka bean note smells like.

As I have mentioned above, coumarine has a combination of different heartwarming aura.

When I first smelt it, I got the hunch of vanilla, but it was not overwhelmingly sugary. It had a subtle, creamy sweetness that made it suitable for rich and exotic amber fragrances.

The best part of this ingredient is that it gives different nuances depending on how it’s been used, and quantity. Also, the notes you’re trying to alternate.

Let me clarify. Aside from being sweet, it contains a hint of spice and smokiness. Thus, you will find it in fougere fragrances also.

The smell of tonka bean is almost like a bunch of different spices mixed and toned down by merging with vanilla along with some tobacco.


I got the hunch of roasted almonds, sticky caramel, wood, and the gentle touch of cherries in this unique aroma of tonka beans which creates an inviting and sensual ambiance.

In summary, tonka bean smells like,

  • Milky smooth with sweet accords.
  • Spicy with hints of herbs like cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Herbaceous and warm like a summer meadow.
  • Slightly tart with wild cherry hunch.
  • Somewhat nutty similar to toasted almonds.

That’s why even after the first experience, tonka can smell very familiar to you. It feels creamy, smooth, and cozy despite having so many tones to it.

Due to its versatility, you will find it in scented candles, fruit-based and citrus perfumes, and many more. Now that you know what does tonka bean really smells like, it’s time to check their harvesting process.

Harvest Of The Tonka Bean

Tonka beans come from the tonka bean tree. After maturing the fruits fall on the ground, on the verge of May. Then the ripe fruits are collected to dry for a year.

When the drying process is over, the seeds are extracted and again dried in the sun. After harvesting tonka seeds are again dried, and cured to produce black, wrinkled beans that are smooth and their inner side turns brown in color.

Later, the beans are stored in a container for 24 hours in strong alcohol at 65°. It creates beautiful white glazed tonka bean crystals after the air-drying process.

Where Do Its Scents Come From?

Tonka bean’s essence comes from coumarin after it goes through the whole drying and curing process. Though coumarin has a bitter taste, it still smells sweet and pleasant.

Coumarin gives tonka the resemblance of vanilla. It doesn’t end here, it also showcases a herbaceous tone as well.

You will find traces of coumarin in other plants such as lavender, clover, cinnamon, vanilla, and strawberries. So, its aura will seem familiar when you first experience it. The same happened to me.

How Coumarin Comes From The Tonka Bean?

Coumarin is a white powder found in tona beans that is composed of ester and lactone. In 1856, Justus Von Liebig and Friedrich Wohler discovered it and in 1868, chemist William H Perkin successfully synthesized it.

Tonka bean normally contains 46% of coumarin meanwhile, tonka bean absolute contains 90% of coumarin.

What Fragrance Notes Goes Well With Tonka Bean?

Tonka bean has become an essential note while making perfumes. It adds depth and sensuality not only in men’s cologne but also in women’s aromas like in Dior Addict By Dior.


Like any other ingredients, certain notes properly merge with the warmth of tonka bean and radiate to their full potential.

Now, let’s check out what scents layer well with the smell of tonka bean:

The first note that tunes eye to eye with tonka bean is vanilla. Its sweet and romantic touch compliments tonka very well.

If you like spicy aura don’t worry, elements such as clove and cinnamon merge with tonka bean and create a delicious aroma that is suitable for colder months. You will find such blending in the dry-down.

Coumarin has a sharp hunch thus bitter almonds suit tonka bean and flowers like heliotrope, Jasmine feels amazing when paired with it.

If you want, you can layer any lavender and neroli-oriented perfume with tonka bean prominent scents and create a new mesmerizing smell that will draw others’ attention for sure.

In one word, the possibilities are endless due to the versatile nature of the tonka bean.

What Are The Benefits And Uses Of Tonka Bean?

Besides being used as a note in fragrances and as a flavor in a variety of foods, tonka beans have a number of different benefits for the mind and the body.

Let’s find out the uses and benefits of tonka bean:

  • The essential oil extracted from the flavorful tonka beans is said to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. So it is used to treat certain skin inflammations and help fight off harmful bacteria and fungi.
  • The warm and soothing scent of tonka beans has a calming effect and helps in reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Coumarin is rich in antioxidants and thus is good for digestive irritations.
  • In cooking and making pasta tonka can be used along with ingredients such as coffee, chocolate, and cakes.
  • In aromatherapy, the pleasant aura of tonka bean is used to ward off negative thoughts and help calm the mind.

Tonka bean is mostly known for its use in perfumery as a note and also contains many benefits but it’s best to not use it on yourself without consulting a healthcare professional beforehand.

Now it’s time to check out tonka bean fragrances that smell divine.

Best Smelling Tonka Bean Perfumes

The use of tonka bean in perfumery opened a new door to enhance its enchanting aroma. It has a comforting and inviting essence that can evoke feelings of warmth and happiness.


Perfumers became interested in tonka beans during the early 20th century. But Guerlain brought tonka beans into the limelight through their world-famous Guerlinade. A signature scent of the brand.

Moreover, when it’s added to any fragrance, it complements the other notes really well. It also gives the perfume more character and depth.

Here is the list of best-smelling tonka bean fragrances that feature tonka bean:

Guerlain Tonka Impériale by Guerlain

Guerlain Tonka Impériale is the first cologne on my list that features the excellent blending of tonka bean with other ingredients. This long-lasting scent opens with the bitter, herbal nuance of almonds and rosemary.

At the core, you will get the sweet, smoky aura of the tonka bean, which becomes more prominent as tobacco and jasmine’s alluring smell merge together.

Its base is smokey and woody, which gives a cozy yet sensual feeling in the colder months. All you need are a few sprays to enjoy 12 hours of longevity.

Myrrh & Tonka Cologne Intense by Jo Malone London

If you are looking for a unisex fragrance with the invigorating whiff of coumarin, then Myrrh & Tonka Cologne Intense will fill your every criterion.

This amber scent combines the warm, balsamic smell of myrrh and tonka bean at the beginning. Then the delicious hunch of vanilla will brush through your nose along with almond’s nutty touch.

Myrrh & Tonka Cologne Intense provides strong sillage and projection with 12 hours of lasting capability. So, if you want your fragrance to last, this is your jam.

Armani Code By Giorgio Armani

Another cologne that has tonka bean in it is Armani Code, created by Antoine Lie. This Giorgio Armani cologne has a very warm, spicy, and ambery aroma.

The opening of this winter cologne features some citrus notes that transition into gentle florals and at the core it radiates a spicy, woody tone due to the presence of star anise, olive blossom, and guaiac wood.

Tonka bean in this fragrance is present as a base note and responsible for giving the cologne its signature warmth and sensuality while paired with tobacco and leather.

If you love its elegant masculine vibe, try these fragrances similar to Armani Code. I am certain you will not be disappointed.

Aside from these, there are other scents such as Dior Addict, and Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford which will show you the magic of tonka bean.

Many people assume that it has a masculine aroma, so it only fits scents for men, but that is not true. Tonka bean is often used in perfumes for ladies as well.


Is tonka a masculine scent?

Tonka is without a doubt a masculine scent due to its spicy, smokey hunch, but its use is not limited to men’s cologne, you will find its presence in women’s perfume as well.

Does tonka bean smell like caramel?

Yes, due to its rich, spicy, and sweet aura, tonka bean gives the whiff of caramel, but it’s not very prominent.

Why are tonka beans illegal?

Tonka beans contain a chemical named coumarin which can damage the liver and other side effects. That’s why the FDA banned it since 1954 and it became illegal in the USA ever since.

Is tonka the same as vanilla?

No, tonka bean is not the same as vanilla. It just gives the sweet and welcoming reminiscent of vanilla.

Does tonka bean smell nice?

Tonka smells very nice. It gives off the tone of vanilla, and caramel along with a spicy and bitter combo which is enough to lift your mood.

Is tonka bean seductive?

Yes, tonka beans are seductive. It has a warm and exotic scent profile that when mixed with other notes gives a sensual vibe instantly.

Parting Thoughts

Undoubtedly, tonka bean is a very pleasant, rich, and versatile aroma that adds depth, potent warmth, and creaminess, to any fragrance that it’s added to!

Even though it is unsafe for consumption as a food, its use in limited quantities in fragrances is completely harmless.

From this context, you have got all the information about tonka bean’s scent profile, harvesting process, uses, and names of a few hypes fragrances that contain tonka bean as one of their keynotes.

That’s all for today. If you have further queries, comment below.

About The Author
Hello, I am Tasnim, a senior content developer at 10 Fragrances. I am passionate, brave, and up for challenges. From trying new and timeless fashion trends, I gradually leaned toward the amazing world of perfume, where scents do all the talking.

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