7. Tonka Beans
Tonka beans are raisin-like legumes from South America. They are characterised by a potent aroma which mixes notes of almond, vanilla and cinnamon. In the food and beverage industry, tonka beans are a somewhat controversial ingredient. Since 1954, they have been completely banned in the United States, but pretty much everywhere else they are regarded as a premium ingredient, used in food and drinks alike.
The point of contention is one of their compounds – coumarin, a substance which during lab tests on some animals has been found to cause liver failure in high dosages. To date, however, no human death has been linked to a coumarin overdose and since its ban in the US, this substance has been discovered in other common and legal ingredients like cassia cinnamon, lavender and liquorice. Nowadays, coumarin is also lawfully added inside cosmetics, detergents, shower gels and even e-cigarettes.
When it comes to cocktails, tonka beans are mainly used in shavings. Cross Yu, Bartender of the Year at DMBA 2019, says that their aroma is so powerful that one bean can be used for up to 50 cocktails. For a person to reach toxic levels of coumarin consumption, it would take around 30 whole tonka beans, or 1,500 cocktails. Enough said.