Tamarind is a slow-growing tropical evergreen tree native to tropical Africa, and grows in India and Mexico as well. The origins of the word tamarind mean "the date of India." The mature tamarind tree can grow to 80 feet high in tropical, humid climates. It bears long brownish pods that have acidic pulp and hard seeds. Tamarind is an ingredient in many forms of Asian and Latin American drinks, dishes, snacks and candies, as well as medicines and herbal treatments.
Tamarindus indica, the Tamarind tree, is related to carob. It grows wild in its native tropical Africa, but is grown extensively in India, Costa Rica and Thailand for its fruit pods, flowers, leaves and wood. The tamarind tree grows slowly, gets very tall and lives a very long time. It has evergreen foliage and sets fruit yearly.
The fruit of the tamarind tree grows in a long brown pod. It has sour fleshy brownish-reddish pulp with many seeds. The fruit pulp has vitamin B and calcium and tastes fruity, sweet and sour. The fruit is used in many ways to flavor dishes, as sauce or chutney, as a souring flavoring, with sugar added as a dried fruit candy and powdered or fresh squeezed for refreshing drinks. It is a popular "agua fresca" in Mexican restaurants and groceries, along with horchata (sweet rice water) and agua de pina, or pineapple water.
Tamarind has medicinal as well as culinary uses. It is a natural mild laxative, and is eaten fresh or in dried form to relieve constipation. Steam from boiling tamarind when inhaled will bring some relief from congestion and breathing problems. Gargling with tamarind water will relieve a sore throat. Because it is very acidic, it has antiseptic properties and is used to reduce fever.
Tamarind is used in many culinary preparations, from drinks, to sauces, jams and chutneys, to side and main dishes.
A simple drink recipe for a delicious summer "agua fresca de tamarindo" calls for 1 lb. of tamarind pulp with seeds, 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of sugar. Put the pulp and water in a large cooking pot and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring and breaking up the pulp. Strain out the pulp and seeds, add sugar, and chill before serving with ice and garnished with orange or lemon fruit slices.
A simple tamarind candy recipe involves warming up tamarind paste or pulp, letting it cool into a putty-like consistency, cutting into small pieces and rolling it in sugar.
Tamarind is used in a wide variety of commercial food products, such as pulp, paste, powder\ and syrup.
Tamarind is grown commercially in India on a large scale on plantations and is grown commercially on a smaller scale in Costa Rica and other South American countries as well as Thailand. India is the main commercial source of tamarind exports to Pakistan, Arab countries, North America and Europe.
Tamarind in the Kitchen
Tamarind is a staple and a favorite in Mexican, Latin American, Indian and Asian kitchens and restaurants. It is kept as a paste for cooking and making drinks, to make a natural unprocessed candy, for folk remedies to treat mild conditions and as a fresh fruit to be enjoyed in many ways.