Tonka Bean Ice Cream

Tonka bean ice cream is a rich and flavorful dessert that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Made with the seeds of the tonka bean, this ice cream has a unique taste that is both sweet and slightly bitter, with notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and clove. In this recipe I’ll talk about the history and origins of tonka beans, the process of making tonka bean ice cream, and some tips for enjoying this delicious treat. Whether you’re a fan of exotic flavors or simply looking to try something new, tonka bean ice cream is sure to delight your taste buds.

Four boules of homemade tonka bean ice cream in a gold rimmed glass ice cream dish

If you haven’t heard about tonka beans before, don’t be confused. They are not very well known outside of culinary circles. In fact, for nearly half a century they were only seen as a cheaper vanilla substitute! However while there is a bit of a vanilla flavor profile, tonka beans are their own flavor.

This recipe is similar to a classic French vanilla ice cream, with the obvious substitution of vanilla for tonka beans. Fortunately these small, wrinkly beans are magnitudes less expensive than a high quality Tahitian vanilla pod. So not only is this dessert impressive and delicious, but economical as well!

What Are Tonka Beans?

tonka beans

Tonka beans are the seeds of the Dipteryx odorata tree, which is native to South America. They have a hard, wrinkled exterior and a fragrant, yellow interior that is used in a variety of culinary applications. Tonka beans have a complex flavor profile that is often described as a combination of vanilla, cinnamon, and clove. They are commonly used in desserts such as ice cream and chocolate, as well as in perfumes and aromatherapy products.

It is important to note that tonka beans contain a chemical called coumarin. This can be toxic in large doses (much, much more than this recipe calls for). As a result, they are banned for use in food products in some countries, including the United States. Don’t let that deter you though. You can still find tonka beans for sale both online and in-store…you just won’t be able to find a store-bought version of tonka bean ice cream in some countries. Which makes this recipe extra relevant if you want to try this delicious treat.

A Short History Of The Tonka Bean

Tonka beans have a rich history that dates back centuries. They were originally used by indigenous tribes in South America for their medicinal properties, and were also incorporated into religious ceremonies. In the 18th century, tonka beans were introduced to Europe and quickly gained popularity among chefs and perfumers for their unique flavor and fragrance. However, tonka beans also became a controversial ingredient due to their high levels of coumarin, which can be toxic in large doses. Today, tonka beans are still used in a variety of culinary and cosmetic applications, but their use is regulated in many countries to ensure safe consumption. Despite these regulations, tonka beans remain a sought-after ingredient among foodies and fragrance enthusiasts alike.

How To Make Tonka Bean Ice Cream At Home

tonka bean ice cream ingredients on a marble counter

This recipe only calls for six ingredients. To be frank, other than the actual tonka beans you are likely to have the rest of them on hand.

  • 250 ml Heavy Cream
  • 250 ml Milk (full-fat. Do not use skim milk in this recipe)
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 150 grams Sugar
  • 1 pinch Salt
  • 2 Tonka Beans
a half grated tonka bean on a microplane above a plate

Tonka beans have a fairly hard consistency so I highly recommend you grate them with a microplane. This will essentially powder the insides and help it better flavor the ice cream during the steeping process.

a hand holding a flowered plate of grated tonka bean

Some people like to scrape away the wrinkly black coating of the beans, but I find it entirely unnecessary. It will nearly disintegrate into the ice cream just like the insides when you cook it.

a saucepan with milk and grated tonka beans

The first step to make tonka bean ice cream (other than grating the beans) involves a bit of cooking. In a saucepan add the milk, salt, and grated tonka beans. Bring the heat up until the milk is steaming but not boiling, then remove from the heat. Let the mixture steep for 15-20 minutes.

a bowl of tonka bean custard with a wire whisk

While the milk is steeping, add your egg yolks and sugar to a bowl. Whisk to combine. Next SLOWLY trickle the tonka infused milk into the egg mix while whisking constantly. If you pour too fast or whisk too slowly you will risk cooking the eggs and give the final ice cream an off-putting eggy flavor.

tonka bean custard in a sauce pan

Next add the custard mix back to the saucepan along with the heavy cream and cook on medium heat until you have a thick and creamy custard. Once the custard has thickened to where you can trace a line and it doesn’t immediately fill in, remove from the heat. Pour the mix into a container and place in the fridge to chill completely.

Churning The Tonka Bean Ice Cream

chilled tonka bean custard in an ice cream machine

Place the chilled custard in your ice cream machine. Run the machine according to its instructions until you have a thickened and fluffy consistency. You will notice that the color lightens significantly as air is churned in.

ice cream in a sealable plastic container fresh from the freezer

Move the homemade tonka bean ice cream to a sealable container and place it in the freezer. Depending on the strength of your freezer, the waiting time is variable. For my own homemade ice cream it usually takes about 6 hours of freezing before I am ready to serve it.

Four boules of homemade tonka bean ice cream in a gold rimmed glass ice cream dish

When ready to serve, place a few scoops of delight (see what I did there) into your favorite ice cream dish and enjoy! Unlike some of my other recipes, I don’t garnish this ice cream as grated tonka beans can be overly pungent…but in the end it is entirely up to you.

Tonka Bean Fun Facts

  1. Tonka beans are used in traditional African medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, and digestive problems.
  2. In some cultures, tonka beans are believed to have aphrodisiac properties and are used as a natural remedy for impotence and low libido.
  3. Tonka beans are a popular ingredient in natural perfumes and are said to have a calming and relaxing effect on the mind and body.
  4. The high coumarin content in tonka beans makes them a natural insect repellent, and they are often used to protect clothes and linens from moths and other pests.
  5. In some parts of the world, tonka beans are used as a substitute for vanilla, which can be expensive or difficult to obtain. The unique flavor profile of tonka beans makes them a popular ingredient in gourmet desserts and confections.
four boules of homemade tonka bean ice cream in a gold rimmed glass ice cream dish

Tonka Bean Ice Cream

Tonka beans infuse a fantastic flavor to a classic French style ice cream. This dish is sure to impress at your next dinner party with an elegant flavor most people have never tried before.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Churning Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 1 pint
Calories 880 kcal


  • 1 Saucepan
  • 1 Microplane
  • 1 Ice Cream Maker
  • 1 Mixing Bowl
  • 1 Whisk


  • 250 ml Heavy Cream
  • 250 ml Milk full-fat. Do not use skim milk in this recipe
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 150 grams Sugar
  • 1 pinch Salt
  • 2 Tonka Beans


  • Grate your tonka beans with a microplane.
  • Add milk, salt, and grated tonka beans to a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Do Not Boil. When steaming take off the heat and let sit for 15 minutes to steep and infuse.
  • In a bowl whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Then slowly trickle the tonka infused milk while whisking constantly.
  • Move custard mix back into the saucepan and add the heavy cream. Whisk to combine while heating the mix until you have a thickened custard. Place mix into a container and pop in the fridge to chill completely.
  • When the custard is chilled pour it into your ice cream machine and run according to your machine's instructions. When creamed and fluffy (you'll notice the yellow color has lightened considerably) scoop it into a sealable container and place it in the freezer.
  • When frozen you can scoop this homemade tonka bean ice cream into your favorite serving


This recipe does not include the time it takes to chill or freeze as everyone’s freezer strength can vary. 

This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase through the links it allows the site to make money at no additional cost to you. For more information please see 
Scoops of Delight Policy.

Recommended Recipes

1 Comment

  1. 5 stars
    […] can see an example of this in this recipe for tonka bean ice cream. The milk to cream ratio is 1:1. If you wanted to make a gelato you would use a ratio closer to 4:1 […]

Comments are closed.