What is Tamarind?

Believed to originate in East Africa, tamarind now grows extensively throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and the West Indies. Tamarind means ‘date of India’ In Hindu mythology, it is associated with the wedding of the god Krishna which is celebrated by a feast in November.

In Victorian times, the British in Goa kept a tamarind in one ear when venturing into the native quarter to keep themselves free from harassment because the locals believed the fresh pods were inhabited by malevolent demons. This earned the colonials the nickname ‘Lugimlee’ or ‘tamarind heads’, and it has stuck to this day. It is an excellent brass and copper polish. Take a slab of tamarind, sprinkle on some salt, wet it and rub it directly on the object to be polished.

Spice Description

Tamarind is from a curved brown bean-pod from the tamarind tree. The pod contains a sticky pulp enclosing one to ten shiny black seeds. It is the pulp that is used as a flavouring for its sweet, sour, fruity aroma and taste. It is available as a pressed fibrous slab, or as a jamlike bottled concentrate, and some Indian shops carry the dried pods.
Bouquet: a slightly fruity aroma.
Flavour: a refreshing sour taste
Hotness Scale: 1

Preparation of the Pulp

If using the tamarind slab, steep a little in hot water for ten minutes, mash into a paste and pass through a sieve. The fine pulp and juice will go through, leaving behind the fibrous husk. Tamarind slabs and paste store well and will last for up to a year. Tamarind pods will last indefinitely as they require maceration to release their juice.

Cooking with Tamarind Paste

 Usually it is the juice or paste that is used as a souring agent, particularly in south Indian and Gujarati lentil dishes, curries and chutneys, where its flavour is more authentic than vinegar or lemon juice. It may be used to flavour pulse dishes, rice dishes, or as an ingredient in sauces and side dishes for pork, fowl and fish. Tamarind contains pectin which is used in the manufacturing process of commercially produced jams, so it is a natural ingredient in many jams, jellies, fruit drinks, and is vital to Worcestershire sauce. In India, the ground seed is used in cakes. A refreshing drink made from tamarind syrup and resembling lemonade is quite popular in the Middle East.

Substitute for Tamarind Paste

As a substitute for 1 tablespoon tamarind paste use either: 1 1/2 tablespoon amchur powder, 1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice powder or 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce.

Health Benefits

Tamarind is considered a mild laxative and digestive. It is used to treat bronchial disorders and gargling with tamarind water is recommended for a sore throat. It is antiseptic, used in eye-baths and for the treatment of ulcers. Being highly acidic, it is a refrigerant (cooling in the heat) and febrifuge (for fighting fevers). The Ananga Ranga suggests consuming it for enhancing a woman’s sexual enjoyment.

Plant Description and Cultivation

The tamarind tree is a tropical evergreen which grows to a height of 20m (aprox 70ft). It has a thick grey bark; the small oval leaves are pale green. Small clusters of yellow flowers with red stripes bloom in May and fruits in October to November. The brown curved pods are brittle, irregular and bulbous; up to 10 cm (4”). The tree grows best in semi-arid tropical regions and is propagated by seed or cuttings. Little attention is required though in some areas, like Africa and the West Indies, insects are a problem, leaving India to export several thousand tons each year around the world.

Other Names

Indian Date, Tamarindo French: tamarin German: Tamarine Italian: tamarindo Spanish: tamarindo Indian: imli, imlee, amyli (dried) Indonesian: asam Lao: mal kham Malay: asam Sinhalese: syambala Tamil: pulee, puli Thai: makahm

Scientific Name

Tamarindus indica syn T.officinalis Fam Leguminosae

Tamarind Recipes

3 Quick and Easy Tamarind Recipes

Use tamarind concentrate or prepared pulp in:

Grilled chicken – whisk tamarind with orange juice, chicken broth, melted butter, minced garlic and grated ginger; As the chicken grills, baste it with the tamarind glaze.

Noodles: Use tamarind as the tart element in pad thai.

Sautéed Shrimp: Mix tamarind with equal parts water, fish sauce, and white wine, and a little brown sugar. Sauté the shrimp with olive oil and shallots until just opaque. Add the sauce; simmer until the sauce coats the shrimp.

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