Tamarinds have deep roots in Indian folklore and religion: In Bengal, the Oraons view the tree as sacred and often buried their loved ones under its shade. Perhaps this is also how another belief came to be—the one that holds tamarind trees are home to spirits, and thus travelers should not sleep under them. Malvi Doshi, author of the book, “Cooking Along the Ganges,” recalls how his father in Gujarat forbid him from approaching the tree after dusk settled for this very reason. Indians of the north are not the only ones steeped in tamarind lore: Dravidians of the south have a ritual performed by the mother of the groom called the “grinding of the tamarind stone.” Indeed, India’s history is rich with stories and anectotes featuring this tangy, complex fruit.
Origin of Tamarind
Contrary to its indica classification, the fruit is not of Indian origin. Though the fruit has grown on India’s soils for many centuries, tamarinds are native to the tropical regions of Africa—more specifically, Sudan, Cameroon, and Nigeria. To give an idea of its antiquity, the Egyptians and Greeks received the fruit much later… and yet, references are made to the fruit there as far back as the 4th century BC.
The indica name likely came from the Arab traders who coined the fruit as, “tamar hind,” or, “Indian date.”
Availability of Tamarind in India
Tamarind requires semi-arid, tropical conditions in which to grow. States and regions growing the fruit include Bihar, Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and the lower Himalayas.
India is the largest producer of fruits, and one of the only nations growing tamarinds on a commercial scale. No oversight body makes it difficult to know precise figures of production, but the Punjab National Bank estimates 50,000 tonnes are produced from Madhya Pradesh alone.
Often in competition with Thailand, India exports some of its production ships to the US, Europe, and other parts of Western Asia. Only a fraction of the yearly tamarind yield gets distributed as fresh fruit: most of it goes to plants to make ready-made pulp; a key ingredient in several Indian chutneys and curries.
Tamarind production on a micro level is a bit of an oddity in India—few in the villages gather tamarinds because they’re likely the low-priced, low-demand sour variety. Furthermore, the disorganized nature of the market makes it difficult to effectively price and distribute tamarinds outside of the villages.
Tamarind season depends on the region. The south gets tamarinds first and the season slowly extends to the north. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh yield tamarinds in January; Maharashtra in February; and northern states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in late February.
Where to find Tamarind in India
Tamarinds are readily found in India, though more so in the north than the south. Metro areas sell boxes of the sweet type in most mid to large stores, although they’re often imports from Thailand. Because tamarind markets are so fragmented at the micro level, the fruit seldom appear on pushcarts alongside oranges, grapes and bananas during the same season.
It’s quite simple to find tamarind-related products year-round, such as the blocks of the sour fruit, tamarind powder, chutney, and ready-made tamarind paste.
Checking for Ripeness in Tamarind
It’s difficult to determine tamarind’s quality based on its brittle, peanut-like shell. Only once the exterior is cracked can the quality be determined: the pulp inside should be sticky to the touch and a dark toffee brown color. Spoiled tamarinds are dessicated, light in color and sometimes powdered white.
Taste of Tamarind
There are two varieties of tamarind: sweet, and sour. Though most trees in India yield sour fruits, the type of tamarind sold fresh to consumers is the sweeter variant.
Tamarinds have a gummy, sticky texture similar to a date. Its taste is bold and commanding—there are no subtle, subdued flavors or lingering aftertastes. Tamarinds offer an explosive, tart flavor similar to a sweet-and-sour candy sold to kids. If tasting the sour type, expect a puckering sensation akin to eating a lemon or ornamental orange.
Nutritional Value of Tamarind
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of tamarind contains the following values:
1g Fat (1% RDI)
28mg Sodium (1% RDI)
63mg Carbohydrate (21% RDI)
5g Fiber (20% RDI)
2.8g Protein (6% RDI)
30IU Vitamin A (1% RDI)
3.5mg Vitamin C (6% RDI)
2.8mcg Vitamin K (3% RDI)
.4mg Thiamin (29% RDI)
.2mg Riboflavin (9% RDI)
1.9mg Niacin (10% RDI)
.1mg Vitamin B6 (3% RDI)
14mcg Folate (3% RDI)
74mg Calcium (7% RDI)
2.8mg Iron (16% RDI)
92mg Magnesium (23% RDI)
113mg Phosphorous (11% RDI)
628 mg Potassium (18% RDI)
.1mg Copper (4% RDI)
1.3mcg Selenium (2% RDI)
Health Benefits of Tamarind
Some may hesitate to eat tamarinds because of its high sugar content, and yet, the fruit is packed per gram with calcium, iron, thiamin, magnesium, potassium and fiber. In fact, the United States imports tens of thousands of kilos of tamarinds for medical studies and for pharmaceutical applications.
According to the book, “Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine,” tamarinds have several traditional health benefits in India: they treat thirst, jaundice, liver problems, cholera, and soothe the throat. Tamarinds act as a potent laxative, and aid digestive issues like gastritis and colic pain. For men, the seeds treat impotence and seminal diseases.
Some Indians also use tamarinds as part of a beauty regiment: when applied topically, the seed powder prevents the formation of pimples and serves as a type of hair oil.
The book, “Fruits of Warm Climates” outline worldwide traditional remedies as well. Tamarinds reduce fevers and act as a carminative. Several countries apply the pulp topically to combat inflammation, and consume it to treat sunstroke, hangovers, parasites, and even paralysis.
Scientific studies show promising findings regarding tamarinds:
--According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Natural Medicines, tamarinds illustrated anti-obesity effects by improving lipid profiles and boosting antioxidant efficiency in obese rats.
--A 2010 study published in Scientia Pharmaceutica affirms the leaves’ traditional use as an anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive.
--As per a study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences, tamarind seeds show potent anti-ulcer activities by regulating gastric juices and reducing the total acidity in gastric secretions.
--Remarkably, a 2012 study published in the Scientific World Journal found that the seeds act as an anticancer agent by reducing human cancer cells and tumor sizes.
--According to a 2006 report published by the Southampton Centre for Underutilized Crops, tamarind fruit extracts exhibited antifungal activities against Candida albicans. The report also cited a study indicating the seed’s potent efficacy as an antidiabetic when tested in rats.
--A 2012 study published by the Journal of Hazardous Materials found a promising use for tamarind shells, as their calcium-rich compounds may assist with fluoride removal in ground water.
--A 2008 study published in the Asian Journal of Biochemistry found that tamarind pulp exhibited potent antibacterial activity when tested against strains of gram positive and gram negative bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, thus affirming many of its uses in traditional remedies.
How to Open/Cut:
The pulp comprises only 30 to 50 percent of a tamarind. Thus, a bit of preparation work is required to get to the edible part of a tamarind. First, crack the brittle brown shell of the fruit—this process is no different than cracking a groundnut shell to get to the peanuts. Next, extricate the pulp from the fibrous ribbing: pinch the ribbing at the point of each tamarind and peel it away from the tamarind flesh—ideally, the twiggy ribbing comes off in one smooth pull. Enjoy the pulp, but be mindful of the two to six shiny black seeds waiting in every tamarind. The white, papery skin surrounding each seed is edible though tasteless.
Here’s a video showing how to peel and eat a tamarind.
Tamarind pods are low-maintenance fruit: even at room temperature, they will keep for a month. Store homemade tamarind pulp by blending it with salt and placing the concoction in an airtight container. Tamarind paste keeps for years in dry conditions.
To reduce any probability of mold and spoilage (as might be the case in balmy, humid conditions with super-fresh tamarind), consider freezing tamarind paste in ice cube trays and popping them out as needed.
|Vegan tamarind+chickpea soup from|
Tamarind Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--The sour pulp is often used for curries and sauces as a souring agent. In some cases, tamarind pulp gets folded into curry and chutney recipes as a sort of cranberry/raisin substitute.
--The sweet tamarind pulp is processed for jams, sweets and the occasional soup recipe.
*Make tamarind chutney by simmering the pulp with dates, ginger, sugar, and earthy spices like cumin.
--South Americans, Central Americans and those in the Caribbean make popular sodas and juices. Ghana, for instance, adds sugar and honey to tamarind pulp for its version of the sweet beverages. Other countries ferment the pulp to make a type of alcohol.
*To make a tamarind cooler, simply boil water and add it to a base of dissolved sugar, tamarind pulp and lemon juice. Add additional flavors as desired, such as mint and ginger.
--In Mexico, the sour pulp gets sweetened with sugar and rolled in chili powder for caramel apples and chewy candy.
--Tamarind kernels contain a gel-forming substance that may be useful as a stabilizer for mayonnaise, jams, ice cream, soups and sauces
--The tamarind seed may be ground into flour for use in baked goods and pastries.
--Tamarind is the base of several barbeque sauces, thanks to its earthy, sweet-and-sour taste. Make a barbeque glaze by adding tamarind paste or concentrate with agave (or honey), soy sauce, cumin, ginger, and black pepper. Add nut butter (almond or peanut) to create a creamier dipping sauce.
|Vegan beans with tamarind and chipotle from|
Orange, lemon, lime, apple, amla, star gooseberry, passion fruit, date
Herbs, spices, and oil: ginger, salt, black pepper, white pepper, vinegar, barbeque sauce, chili powder, coconut oil, garlic, onion powder, molasses, jaggery, palm sugar, honey, cumin, turmeric, coriander, mustard seed, anise, lemon juice, lime juice, tomato paste, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, fennel, asafetida, salt,
Indian farmers have an interesting relationship with tamarinds. According to a “Times of India” article, the British planted many of the trees during the early half of the 20th century—Indian farmers hold the belief that tamarind trees adversely affect health, particularly asthmatics. Thus, farmers seldom plant them.
Americans are more familiar with the fruit than they might believe: tamarind is a key ingredient in Worcester sauce.
Tamarinds are related to some types of string beans, unsurprising given their appearance.