Thursday, September 27, 2012

All About the Manila Tamarind

Camachile’s many names are more interesting than the fruit’s bland taste: devil’s necklace, monkey earrings, monkey pod and black bead are just a few. Indians know this fruit as a “Manila tamarind” despite having no relation to the well-known, molasses-colored tamarind. With no roots in Madras/Chennai, its other name, “Madras thorn,” is also a misnomer.

Camachile is native to the tropics of Southern Mexico, South America and Central America.  According to the book, “Florida Ethnobotany,” botanists thought India was camachile’s native land based on reports sent by Europeans exploring India’s coasts in 1705. In the reports, they describe several sightings of the bizarre, twisted fruits. Earlier records from 1650, however, revealed that the Spaniards brought the fruits from the New World to the Philippines. From the Philippines, the fruits spread throughout the rest of Southeast Asia.

Countries growing camachile trees include Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Guyana, Colombia, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guam, Virgin Islands, Dutch Antilles, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Florida and Hawaii in the United States.

In Asia, camachile is exotic, growing in Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, China, the Philippines Indonesia and India. African countries growing camachile include Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar. Though uncommon, they’re found in a few Middle Eastern counties like Qatar.

The Philippines and Indonesia are the only countries selling camachiles in the market—In Hawaii, the fruit’s an invasive species, and Peru’s only use for the tree is to make charcoal.

Availability of Camachile in India
In tropical conditions at an elevation below 300 meters, camachiles grow like weeds. The durable tree can withstand poor nutrient soil, saline, and rocky terrain.

In India, camachiles grow wild throughout Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Delhi. Few, if any, farmers grow the trees commercially. Instead, they’re found growing as a hedge tree or as road shrubbery.

Manila tamarinds bear fruit from February through March, but may continue until May.

Where to find Manila Tamarind in India
Most manila tamarind trees are stumbled upon while driving along tree-lined roads and through small villages. Perhaps a vendor will be selling bags of them along the highway, gathered from his farmhouse behind him. Or, village locals will be purveying them to schoolchildren after exploiting the nearby trees.

Older generations of the South are most familiar with the fruits. Those growing up in Mittur or the Chittoor district, for example, have fond childhood memories of peeling back camachiles and eating their papery flesh as a snack. Such recollections are lost on the younger, urban generation.

Checking for Ripeness in Manila Tamarind
Unripe Manila tamarinds are greenish white. When ready for picking, their skin becomes pinkish gold. Do not think that the fruit has spoiled on the tree when the white flesh peeks out from its flimsy shell. This is, in fact, a sign that it’s ready to eat.

The flesh of some fruits are pinkish red, while others are snow white.

Taste of Camachile
As a wild fruit with no serious commercial cultivation efforts, manila tamarind’s flavor varies considerably. All possess a sweet, musky acidic taste that resembles desiccated coconut meat. Some people detect astringent and metallic notes. Of the two types of fruit, the red-fleshed variants are sweeter, whereas the white fruits may cause mild throat irritation.

Camachile’s texture is chewy, doughy, slightly papery and mildly grainy, with a flesh that dissolves on the tongue. Like the tamarind, the fruits have large, shiny black seeds surrounding the flesh. These are not edible, and must be spit out.

Nutritional Value in Manila Tamarind
From Purdue University’s horticulture department, the nutritional value of a manila tamarind is, per 100g:

78 kcal
The composition of the fruit is:
77.8% water
3% protein
.4% fat
18.2% carb
1.2% fiber
.6% ash
13 mg calcium (1.3% RDI)
42mg phosphorous (4.2% RDI)
.5mg iron (2.7% RDI)
19mg sodium
222mg potassium (6.3% RDI)
15mg vitamin A
.24mg thiamin/B1 (16.6% RDI)
.10mg riboflavin/B2 (5.8% RDI)
.60mg niacin/B6 (3% RDI)

133mg vitamin C (221% RDI)

Health Benefits of Manila Tamarind
Natives use camachiles in a number of traditional remedies: a concoction of the fruit and astringent bark treat ailments ranging from bronchitis, diarrhea, hemorrhages, sores, liver problems and spleen issues. In Eastern Nepal, parts of the camachile treat fever, the stem combats dysentery, and the leaves help with intestinal disorders. The Spaniards initially assumed that camachiles were beneficial for the liver: they extrapolated that the seeds represent the liver itself, and the white aril surrounding the flesh symbolized the liver’s fat. No studies support this theory. According to the book, “Huastec Mayan Ethnobotany,” the Huastec Indians of Mexico’s San Luis Potosi used parts of the tree to manage toothaches, sore gums and mouth ulcers. 

--Manila tamarinds are exceptionally high in vitamin C, which bolsters the immune system, staves off strokes and reduces phlegm. It’s also full of cancer-fighting antioxidants
--Its high thiamine content helps the body convert sugars into energy, which impacts the mood: greater conversion helps stabilize stress levels.
--According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, camachile fruit extracts exhibited strong anti-ulcer activity comparable to the standard drug, omeprazole.
--A 2011 study published in the Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that fruit extracts protected the liver from oxidative stress.
--Researchers found potential in the camachile’s antioxidants’ ability to fight off liver disease (hepatic oxidative dysfunction, to be specific).
--A 2012 study published in Natural Product Research indicates that camachiles are non-toxic and safe for consumption despite the occasional minor throat irritation.

How to open/cut
Like tamarinds, camachiles require peeling off the thin exterior and eating the flesh surrounding the large black seed. Unlike the tamarind, though, camachiles have a soft skin that can be peeled like a green bean’s.

Because it’s laborious to de-seed camachiles, many eat the fruit out-of-hand.

Storing Manila Tamarind
Fresh camachile is highly perishable, and the white aril will quickly brown once peeled. At room temperature, the fruits keep for three to four days.

Manila Tamarind Recipe Ideas
--In North Mexico, locals make a lemonade-type beverage by de-seed the fruit, blending the arils with water, and straining through a sieve. Sugar is added as necessary, and it’s possible to add orange juice, ginger, lemon juice, mint, or coconut water for a boost in flavor.
--Roast the black seeds surrounding aril. Once cooled, remove the shiny black layer to expose the edible seed. Add these seeds into curries and stir fries, as is common in rural areas of southern India.
--Create a paste for sauces, soups and stews: mix the pounded camachile pulp with jaggery, water, salt, and a dash of chili powder.

--Make a stir fry by adding the paste above to sautéed tofu and vegetables.

Flavor Complements
Fruits: Coconut, lemon, orange, sour orange, lime, coconut, baobab, monstera, pomegranate, soursop, sweet lime, wood apple

Herbs, spices, and oil: Sugar, shredded coconut, orange juice, lemon juice, ginger, mint, coconut water, jaggery, water, salt, chili powder, cocoa

Random fact
In the South of India, brick kiln workers use camachile branches as fuel. A 2007 study published in “Small Ruminant Research” also advises farmers in nutrient-poor land to let livestock graze on camachile as a good source of calories and protein.

Camachiles are the most recognizable fruits in the Pithellobium group. However, djenkol beans (Pithecellobium lobatum) are the black sheep of the genus. A number of studies have been published with regards to the djenkol beans’ poisonous chemicals. Despite the risks, they are still a popular ingredient amongst the natives of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Scientific Name
Pithecellobium dulce

Other Names
Manila tamarind
Madras thorn
Jangal Jalebi (Hindi)
Seeme hunase (Kannada)
Vilayatichinch (Marathi)
Kodukkappuli (Tamil)
Seema chintakaya (Telegu)

Vilayati ambli (Gujarati)


  1. Mmmmmm....yummy , today i happen to have this fruit after my childhood. Of course ripen fruits are very tasty. Thanks for insisting on the medicinal and nutritional information.

    1. Oooh, could you do me a favor and describe the taste of it? I haven't had it, and it was REALLY hard finding information on what people think of the taste!

  2. To me they taste sorta like sweet coconut flesh.

  3. I have a big tree of camachile at my farm house and i would like to correct the ripping season of the fruit, its from march to may. I love it and would also describe the taste as juice coconut flesh. I would also like to add that the one that are red inside are more juicy and sweet then the one that are white. Also the white one can cause throat irritation sometimes.

    1. Thank you so, so much for correcting this--I'll also update the season and taste!

  4. I have had a fruit in Madras called ``Kodukapulli", which looks mighty reminiscent of the fruit you have up here. Upon doing some spadework,
    I found ``my" fruit is also called Pithecellobium Dulce. Perhaps the Tamil
    name you have up above is just a variant.
    Quite interestingly the street vendor who had it (Summer 2010, Pondy Bazar)
    said its taste was nothing much, but it was consumed mostly for ``time passing". Its taste, in my opinion, was a little better but certainly
    not delectable

  5. Hai, Catherine, nice article, only today i read in deccan hearld, written by some one along ur similar lines, so i just chkd it out, and come across ur blog,
    Ohw! its exotic fruit to me, when i was a litle girl,when in holidays, in Channnapatna, i wud get to see, these circular, colorful, de color is Crimson, its not pink, and tasted delicious, all mixture of sweetness, textury, and toungue cleansing ...xcuse spellings... , this article and todays made me go back ... thank u for bringing those sweet colors and unique taste...
    -sheera bharath

    1. Thanks so much for calling this to my attention! This was an unfortunate example of pretty blatant plagiarism.

      On a brighter note, thanks as well for describing this very interesting fruit--camachiles are quite funny, aren't they? I'm glad you have fond memories of them!

  6. Thanks for this detailed article. I found these fruits at the market in Thailand and was wondering what they were. Look forward to trying them!

  7. about seed.i read any where seed rich sulfur-containing amino acids.

  8. What a wonderful blog. Just today I was having a discussion of long lost fruits we had in our childhood and now are rare to see around in India. Nostalgically started googling info on few and LO and Behold stumble here.

    This particular fruit you mention is here is called Goras Amli(Tamarind) in Gujarat, where I am from and had it many years ago. It was never bought as such, as it mostly grew as a weed, but in season the fruit was something we used to look forward to have and can clearly remember its taste still after almost 20 years!!! :) We mostly had the white one, as the fruit never got a chance to ripen due to our greediness :) , I would describe the taste as playfully tangy, a bit hard to chew down all the fruit as the only meaningful purpose of having the fruit at that time seemed to get the tangy juice out while chewing..

    Best wishes to you in your effort to revive the intrigue of food treasures of India and documenting them. I will be a regular visitor.. :)

  9. Can pregnant women eat this ?? My wife is pregnant and she has been asking me to get this ... till i saw this article i dint know its name ... thanks but just help me out .. can pregnant women have these ?? She is in her 5th month..

  10. Can pregnant women eat this ?? My wife is pregnant and she has been asking me to get this ... till i saw this article i dint know its name ... thanks but just help me out .. can pregnant women have these ?? She is in her 5th month..

  11. This is one of the few fruit trees that grow in Bahrain. I had eaten it as a kid when we lived in Madras and Secunderabad. We called it velayati aamli in Gujerati (translated it means English tamarind). I was so excited to see it in Bahrain after many years. Although people grow it on their properties, it is rarely available in the stores. I got my gardener to fetch some from a neighbour's property. I saved the seeds and grew them. They grow fast like a throny bush that I keep pruning. Been 3 years now. I want to know when can I expect it to bear fruit.

  12. Can we get in America Mukesh Patel

  13. I'm from Kenya, I first seen it in Nairobi at church road.i was very excited do how it twist it's pods

  14. Can i eat manila tamarind fruit during pregnancy

  15. In this July and June .... We're we get t manilatamrid ... Fruit I need this bulk quantity