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Tonka Bean

Scientific Name(s): Dipteryx odorata (Aubl.) Willd., Dipteryx oppositifolia (Aubl.) Willd.
Common Name(s): Cumaru, Tonco bean, Tonco seed, Tonga bean, Tongo bean, Tonka bean, Tonquin bean, Torquin bean

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 21, 2021.

Clinical Overview


Tonka bean contains coumarin, which is used as a flavoring in foods and tobacco, as well as a fragrance in cosmetics.


There is no clinical evidence to support a specific dosage of tonka bean.


Contraindications have not been determined.


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

If ingested in modest amounts, tonka beans have not been reported to produce any serious adverse reactions. Caution is advised in hepatic impairment. Coumarin, as a constituent of tonka beans or tonka extract, is prohibited from use in food by the FDA.


Little information is available.

Scientific Family

  • Fabaceae (bean)


Members of the genus Dipteryx are native to South America (Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil), as typically large trees bearing single-seeded fruits about 3 to 5 cm in length. The fruit is dried with the seed removed. If not processed further, the fruit is sometimes known as "black beans." The beans are macerated in rum and then air-dried, resulting in the formation of a crystalline deposit of coumarin making the seeds appear frosted.

Tonka beans are rounded at one end and bluntly pointed at the other. The bean is black and deeply wrinkled longitudinally, with a very fragrant odor and an aromatic, bitter taste.Trease 1978, USDA 2017


Tonka beans contain coumarin, which is used in the food, cosmetic, and related industries to impart a pleasant fragrance to cakes, preserves, tobacco, soaps, and liqueurs.Duke 2003, Lewis 1977 The seeds are sometimes cured in rum.Mabberley 1987 However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (Code of Federal Regulations), food containing any coumarin as a constituent of tonka beans or tonka extracts is deemed impure.ECFR 2007 Synthetic coumarin has, to some extent, replaced the natural product.

South American natives mix the seed paste with milk to make a thick, nutty-flavored beverage. Extracts of the plant have been used in traditional medicine as a tonic and to treat cramps and nausea. Seed extracts have been administered rectally for schistosomiasis in China. The fruit has also been said to have aphrodisiac properties.


Coumarin is present at 1% to 3% by weight of the fermented seed, but some strains may contain up to 10%.Duke 2003, FDA 2016, Lewis 1977 Umbelliferone (7-hydroxycoumarin) has been isolated from the seed.

Tonka beans contain 25% fat containing unsaponifiable sitosterin and stigmasterin, and a larger amount of starch.Trease 1978 Coumarin has an odor reminiscent of vanillin. A number of related isoflavones have been isolated from the heartwood, including odoratin and dipteryxin. The bark exudes a resin that contains lupeol, betulin, and other minor components.

Crude extracts of callus and roots of D. odorata were analyzed by high-pressure liquid chromatography to detect and quantify isoflavone contents. The structures of 2 isoflavones were elucidated as 7-hydroxy-4′,6-dimethoxyisoflavone and 3′,7-dihydroxy-4′,6-dimethoxyisoflavone. The production of dry biomass of 7-hydroxy-4′,6-dimethoxyisoflavone in cultured callus was 4.12 mg/g, approximately 11-fold higher than the amount accumulated in roots of D. odorata wild-growing plants.Januario 2005

Purification of an ethyl acetate-soluble fraction of the methanol extract of the seeds of D. odorata using a quinone reductase induction assay to monitor fractionation led to the isolation of the following 11 compounds: dipeteryxic acid, 5 methoxyxanthocercin A, isoliquiritigenin, 6,4′-dihydroxy-3′-methoxyaurone, sulfuretin, balanophonin, butin, eriodictyol, 7-hydroxychromone, 7,3′-dihydroxy-8,4′-dimethoxyisoflavone, and (−)-lariciresinol.Jang 2003

Uses and Pharmacology

There are no well-controlled studies describing the pharmacologic effects of tonka beans or their components. Coumarin is toxic when ingested in high doses.

Synthetic coumarin has been developed to replace the natural product in some cases. Warfarin (eg, Coumadin), a substituted coumarin, is a potent anticoagulant used in human therapeutics and rodenticides.(Claus 1970)

Compounds isolated from the tonka bean have been studied in cancer chemoprevention and for acaricidal activity.

Cancer chemoprevention

Animal data

Isoliquiritigenin isolated from D. odorata, which is also present in licorice and shallots, induced quinone reductase activity in Hepa 1c1c7 cells and inhibited prenoplastic lesion formation in a carcinogen-treated mouse mammary organ culture assay by 76% inhibition at 10 mcg/mL.(Cuendet 2006, Jang 2003)

Quinone reductase activity was induced in a dose-dependent manner in the concentration range of 2 to 30 mcM, with a maximum of 7-fold induction at the highest concentration tested.(Cuendet 2006)

Quinone reductase elevation with in vitro and in vivo systems correlates with induction of other protective phase 2 enzymes and provides a reasonable biomarker for the potential chemoprotective effect of test agents against cancer initiation.

In another study, the potential of all identified isolates to induce quinone reductase activity of Hepa 1c1c7 cells were evaluated. Isoliquiritigenin exhibited the most potent quinone reductase activity. 6,4′-Dihydroxy-3′-methoxyaurone, sulfuretin, and balanophonin also induced quinone reductase activity.(Cuendet 2006)

Acaricidal activity

Animal data

A cyclohexane extract of tonka beans was toxic to the common pyroglyphid house dust mite Dermatophagoides pteronyssinies, showing a dose-dependent acaricidal effect. Coumarin was identified as the active component.

After 24 hours, the median effective dose for coumarin 0.032 g/m 2 was very similar to that of benzyl benzoate 0.025 g/m2, a well-known and widely used acaricidal product.(Gleye 2003)

Other uses

The crude extract of D. odorata induced changes to the uterus and ovarian function of prepubescent rats compared to controls. Morphological and weight changes were also observed in the pituitary and adrenal glands. Estrogen-like compounds produced by D. odorata were implicated as the likely cause.(Rodrigues 2018)


There is no clinical evidence to support a specific dosage of tonka bean.

Pregnancy / Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.


Case reports are lacking.

Adverse Reactions

If ingested in modest amounts, tonka beans have not been reported to produce any serious adverse reactions. Caution is advised in hepatic impairment.García 2012 Coumarin, as a constituent of tonka beans or tonka extract, is prohibited from use in human food by the FDA.ECFR 2007


Dietary feeding of coumarin to rats and dogs has been associated with extensive hepatic damage, growth retardation, and testicular atrophy.Duke 2003 Large oral doses of the fluid extract may result in cardiac paralysis.Duke 2003 The median lethal dose (oral) of coumarin is 680 mg/kg in rats and 202 mg/kg in guinea pigs.Windholz 1983



This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

Claus EP, Tyler VE, Brady LR. Pharmacognosy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger; 1970.
Coumarin. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21: Food and Drugs. Part 189-Substances Prohibited From Use in Human Food. Section 189.130. Accessed September 10, 2007.
Cuendet M, Oteham CP, Moon RC, Pezzuto JM. Quinone reductase induction as a biomarker for cancer chemoprevention. J Nat Prod. 2006;69(3):460-463.16562858
Dipteryx odorata. USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (, April 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Accessed April 2017.
Duke JA. Duke JA. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, Second Edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2003.
FDA. Substances Generally Prohibited From Direct Addition or Use as Human Food. Code of Federal Regulations. 2016; 21(3): Coumarin. 21CFR189.130
García Sabina A, González López M, Martínez Pacheco R. [Safety of tonka bean]. Gac Sanit. 2012 Mar-Apr;26(2):194. PMID: 22365344.22365344
Gleye C, Lewin G, Laurens A, et al. Acaricidal activity of tonka bean extracts. Synthesis and structure-activity relationships of bioactive derivatives. J Nat Prod. 2003;66(5):690-692.12762809
Jang DS, Park EJ, Hawthorne ME, et al. Potential cancer chemopreventive constituents of the seeds of Dipteryx odorata (tonka bean). J Nat Prod. 2003;66(5):583-587.12762787
Januario AH, Lourenco MV, Domezio LA, et al. Isolation and structure determination of bioactive isoflavones from callus culture of Dipteryx odorata. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2005;53(7):740-742.15997126
Lewis WH, Elvin-Lewis MP. Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man's Health. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons; 1977.
Mabberley DJ. The Plant-Book. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1987.
Rodrigues G, Db Borges B, Gabriela Q Moreira L, Aparecida G Rossete É, de Castro Franca S. Effects of estrogen-like plant compounds on the vaginal epithelium pituitary, adrenal glands, and uterus of rats. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2018;243(15-16):1173-1184.30509138
Trease GE, Evans WC. Pharmacognosy. London: Bailliere Tindall; 1978.
Windholz M, ed. Merck Index. 10th ed. Rahway, NJ: Merck and Co; 1983.

Further information

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