Ingredient Focus: Tonka

  • Posted on 27th May 2014 by Nick
  • Tonka Bean has been used in perfumery for hundreds of years, but how did it revolutionise the perfume industry?

  • Where does it come from?

    Tonka Beans are the seeds of the Cumaru tree, a flowering tree that grows in South American countries such as Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia. The pods are collected from January to March from ripened fruit that has fallen from the tree.
    The principle odour of Tonka is Coumarin, a substance that forms as crystals on the exterior of the beans. In 1868, William Henry Perkin, a chemist that worked in the dye industry, discovered how to create Coumarin on a larger scale from Willow trees, without requiring the intensive farming of tonka beans - meaning much more could be used in fragrances. In 1882, Coumarin was first used in a perfume, giving birth to modern perfumery.

    How does it smell?

    Tonka (and coumarin) hovers in between several delicious scent territories: redolent of tobacco, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, cherry, almond, saffron, clover and hay.

    Why is it used in a perfume?

    Tonka lends a sweet, balsamic and food-like aroma to perfumes. However, it is also used as part of the fougere accord (a blend of lavender, geranium, tonka and oakmoss), dreamt up by perfumer Paul Parquet when he created the Fougere Royale.
    Our own English Fern is our original interpretation of the Fougere family. Sartorial also contains Tonka, to give the sweet powdery effect to our tailor's workroom inspired modern fougere, and Elixir plays up the powdery, spicy facets in its glowing and embery drydown.
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