Tonka Beans (cumaru) – spices from the Amazon
Today we write about some of the spices that make up the rich and sometimes still unknown contribution from the Indians of the South American Amazon to the epic story of flavor, aroma, and medicine. One of these spices is the Cumaru seed, tonka beans or Fava Tonka.
The history of the modern western civilization and the history of the spice trade are very intimately intertwined; Traditional Asian spices like the black-pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg were very important in Europe for their use in culinary, food preservation, medicine, embalming the dead, perfumes… You name it! By the 1300’s, pound per pound, nutmeg was more valuable than gold! Spices sparked wars, created empires and were the driving energy to new discoveries. All of the high profits of the trade went to the middlemen, though. Those who controlled the trade routes and had direct contact with India, China and other spice-producing areas in South Asia.
The following century saw great advancement in navigation and ship-building techniques. The western European kingdoms raced to find a new maritime route to India and Southeast Asia, which triggered Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. That is why native Americans are still called Indians, to this day. Soon, Vasco da Gama was the first to go around South Africa and Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the globe. Around a century later the world already had a busy and intricate network of ship paths and spice trade. The first breath of globalization taken by mankind.
But at this point, many other spices were finding their way into Europe from the newly found American continent. The red peppers and the vanilla extract, from Mexican orchids of the genus Vanilla, were some of the first.
Tonka Beans (cumaru) – the taste of vanilla from the Amazon
Describing a taste to those who haven’t felt it before is a tricky business, but by most accounts, the Cumaru seeds taste a lot like vanilla, with a touch of almonds and cloves. That is most certainly an oversimplification.
They come from an Amazon tree, Dipteryx odorata, which can grow up to 30 m tall and produces excellent wood. The fruits are edible though it is the seeds that are used for ground spice, oil, and essence extraction.
As it is common with spices, as good as it may taste in desserts and meats, it has many uses other than food flavoring. Its oil is used by the perfume industry both for its smell and for its properties as a fixer of other essences. In the traditional local popular medicine, it has been used for cuts, wounds, snake bites, coughs, etc. There has been some cutting-edge research on the effects of its main active ingredient on turning stem cells into brand new neurons.
In the kitchen, it has the same uses as the common Vanilla extract in milk-based desserts and others, as well as in tomato sauces and Asian style spicy meats.
As with all of the products you can find through Almazonia, the tonka seeds will get to you straight from the local communities, helping them make a living out of the jungle and preserve the forest for future generations.
For more info about importing tonka seeds from Brazil or receiving samples contact us!
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