What Does Tonka Bean Smell Like?

Often considered the lesser-known, equally delicious cousin of vanilla, tonka bean has a warm, smooth smell that has made it a favorite ingredient in the world of perfumery. 

First added to a fragrance by a French perfume maker, tonka bean is a scent that’s as inviting as it is luxurious. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about this subtle, delicious fragrance.

What Is Tonka Bean?

Tonka beans are the beans that come from the Dipteryx odorata tree (also known as the tonka bean tree) which is grown in the rainforests of Central and South America. Known for its incredibly long lifespan, the tonka bean tree produces rose-colored flowers and fruit. Inside the fruit of the tonka bean tree, you’ll find the tonka bean. 

Once the beans are harvested or dropped from the tree, they are cured and dried, a process that leaves them looking like black, wrinkled beans. After they’re cured in rum and dried, tonka beans produce small crystals of coumarin. Coumarin is the essence that is turned into essential oils and used in tonka bean perfumes. 

Although you wouldn’t necessarily want to cook with coumarin because it has a bitter taste, it smells sweet and aromatic, a scent that we’ll look at in closer detail in the next section. 

What Does Tonka Bean Smell Like?

It’s time to dive deeper into this complex smell, and to do that, we’re breaking the smell of tonka bean down into three main components. 


Tonka bean has a nutty, resinous smell, which is why it might remind you of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Its warmth also makes the smell of tonka bean reminiscent of toasted almonds and other rich fragrances. 


Although it’s not quite as sweet as vanilla, tonka bean is still slightly sweet and incredibly smooth. You probably won’t smell it and be reminded of your favorite baked good or latte, as you would with vanilla, but you’ll definitely still get a warm, cozy vibe from tonka bean.


The complexity of tonka bean is balanced by its creaminess. Given that it is a more subtle, creamy scent, tonka bean is a great addition to fragrances and scented candles because it blends well with a wide variety of scents. 

What Scents Pair Well With Tonka Bean?

Pairing scents is an art form and a science, and we’re going to make what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task simple by giving you four scents that pair perfectly with tonka bean. These scents enhance and balance the tonka bean fragrance to make it even more irresistible. 


Given that vanilla and tonka beans have similar smells, you’ll often see them combined in fragrances. Although they definitely belong to the same family, you can distinguish tonka bean from vanilla because it’s less sweet and more spicy and nutty. 


If you’ve ever started your morning with a cup of Earl Grey tea, then you’re already familiar with the smell of bergamot. Most famous for its inclusion in Earl Grey, bergamot is what gives this iconic tea its citrusy, bright flavor. 

Bergamot smells like if you mixed an orange and lemon with slightly spicy, floral elements. Its crisp, sunny smells make it a perfect complement to the warmth and depth of tonka bean.


Musk is an ingredient you’ll often find in fragrances but can be difficult to pick out because of its subtlety. Powdery, sweet, and earthy, a musky smell blends well with tonka bean because it is also a lighter, less overwhelming fragrance. 


As you might have guessed, sandalwood is an iconic woody fragrance. Deep and creamy with a leathery edge, sandalwood pairs well with tonka bean to make a warm, rich scent. Given that it is softer than other woody scents like pine, it won’t overwhelm the subtle sweetness of tonka bean. 

What Are Some Tonka Bean Scents To Try?

We know where tonka bean comes from, what it smells like, and the scents that it pairs well with. The only thing left to do is dive into some fragrances that contain this spicy, sweet scent. In this section, we’ll introduce you to three of our Snif products that feature tonka bean. 

Sweet Ash

Sure to become an instantaneous classic in your scent collection, Sweet Ash is subtle and addicting. This down-to-earth, sweet fragrance features juniper, bergamot, fir balsam, tonka, vanilla bean, white moss, and patchouli. 

Thanks to the vanilla bean and tonka, it has a slightly sweet scent that’s balanced by the earthy woodiness of the juniper, fir balsam, white moss, and cedarwood. The result is a comforting, earthy scent that you can easily wear all day and night. 

Crumb Couture

For all the baked-good enthusiasts and bakery-frequenters, we’re recommending Crumb Couture. This gourmand fragrance smells like a flakey pastry that’s fresh out of the oven. You’ll get whiffs of croissant accord, wild berry jam, blackcurrant, toasted vanilla, tonka bean, and sandalwood from this delicious scent. 

With a distinct and delectable fruity undertone, Crumb Couture might just be unlike any fragrance you’ve smelled before. Without being overly sweet, it will instantly transport you to the first bite of your favorite pasty — but with the help of the tonka and sandalwood, it still has a sophisticated, elegant air. 

Old Money

Speaking of sophistication, the Old Money fragrance will help your laundry smell elegant and delicious. This woody laundry detergent combines cardamom, tonka bean, coumarin, vanilla, sandalwood, and musk. With a lineup like this, your clothes will smell like pure luxury

A Taste for Tonka

We hope by now you’ve acquired a taste for tonka and are excited to try it in your fragrance of choice. Similar to the classic, sweet vanilla fragrance, tonka bean is slightly less creamy and a little bit more complex. With Snif, you can pair this delicious-smelling scent with citrusy, musky, and woody fragrances to make for an unforgettable olfactory experience.


Nutritional Composition of Tonka Bean (Dipteryx odorata) and Its Application as an Elder-Friendly Food with Gelling Agent | NIH

Cinnamon: Mystic powers of a minute ingredient | NIH

(PDF) Cedar Wood Oil — Analyses and Properties | ResearchGate

Re-discovering Sandalwood: Beyond Beauty and Fragrance | NIH

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