These ‘beans’ are the seed from the fruit of the Dipteryx odorata tree. They naturally contain large amounts of coumarin, which was one of the first perfumery materials to be created synthetically. Tonka bean absolute, whilst primarily getting its aroma from coumarin, is more complex than the synthetic on its own, though much higher in cost.
The scent of tonka bean is caramel, almond and vanilla-like, reminiscent of hay and tobacco. It’s a critical note in the fougere genre, but is also used in a multitude of fragrances, from orientals to gourmands to florals. Tonka beans are also used in the kitchen, though they’re restricted in some countries due to toxicity in large amounts.