What is Tamarind?
If you have traveled to South Asia or India, you might recognize this funny looking fruit called tamarind. Tamarind is said to be native to Africa and grows on very tall trees. The tree appears bushy with evergreen leaves and the famous pods. They are long, curved and brown and filled with small seeds that are surrounded by a sticky pulp. Naturally, this pulp dehydrates and becomes a sticky paste.
Belonging to the Fabaceae family tamarind is related to peas, beans, and other legumes. This exotic fruit is mostly found in warmer, drier regions like Asia, Mexico or Africa. The biggest producer of tamarind today is India.1 Tamarind has been grown for thousand of years and assumingly made its way to Asia 5,000 years ago. Today South America and especially Mexico are the largest consumers of tamarind.2
The benefits of tamarind
As an ancient food, tamarind is said to have several supportive attributes to ease stomach discomfort and aids with digestion. Other medicinal uses for tamarind can be to relieve fever, sore throat, or inflammation. Dried or boiled tamarind leaves can even be used as compresses for swollen joints. Studies found that tamarind can be beneficial not only in traditional medicine but now modern medicine has turned its attention to tamarind as it can successfully be used in therapies for abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fevers.
Tamarind’s antioxidants can help reduce LDL cholesterol, which is a driver of heart disease. Studies proved that tamarind has a positive impact on reducing blood pressure as the fiber seems to have an influence on the reduction of cholesterol. It is said to scrape excess LDL cholesterol from arteries and veins.
Its high magnesium content makes tamarind a great dietary addition, as magnesium is needed in more than 600 functions of our body.
Tamarind has anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic effects.3 Eating tamarind as a fruit or spice, it can have a positive impact on your digestive system as well because it has a high fiber content. Fiber functions as a binder and makes the digestive process easier. Additionally, it has a positive impact on your gastric juices which contributes to a healthy digestion and has laxative effects. No wonder that ayurvedic medicine recommends tamarind for gastric problems.
Other great benefits of tamarind extract are the natural compounds that can have antimicrobial effects on our health. Antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial attributes are believed to be additional characteristics of tamarind extract. In traditional medicine, it has been used to treat malaria, in which cases they use the leaves of the tree to cook an herbal tea.
One cup of tamarind pulp comes to a total of 287 calories while most of the calories come from sugar. Here are some other nutrients of tamarind you might be interested in:
- 69 grams of carbs (in the form of 17.5 tsp sugar)
- 6 grams of fiber
- 3 grams of protein
- 1 gram of fat
- 3.4 grams of protein
- 28% magnesium of the RDI
- 35% vitamin B1 of the RDI
Moreover, tamarind has significant high levels of vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin B. The high iron level in tamarind (one serving of tamarind can cover 10 percent of your daily iron requirement) supports the red blood cell count, which provides muscles with enough oxygen to function properly. Moreover, it can help with anemia. 100 grams of tamarind provides 36 percent of your daily thiamin, 35 percent iron, and 28 percent magnesium of your daily needed nutrition.4
Tamarind as food
Tamarind is not just for medicinal use, it is also a very delicious and versatile ingredient in the kitchen. It can either be eaten raw as a sweet and sour snack or once it is ripe, it can be dried and ground into a spice. In India, tamarind is frequently used in chutneys, sauces, marinades, stews, and desserts but also as a snack either dried or fresh. To mellow the sometimes strong taste of tamarind, sugar is often used to keep balance.
You can use it as a marinade as it will make your meat very tender. Marinating your meat overnight in tamarind will make it very delicate and succulent. Another surprising fact about tamarind is that it is a secret ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. In Mexico, tamarind is cooked to a beverage called agua de tamarindo. The pods are cooked and the beverage is later seasoned with sugar.
It is mostly kept as a paste for cooking or drinks but it is also a great natural sweetener for natural candy.5 Particularly south Indian dishes and certain lentil dishes are flavored with tamarind, taking advantage of its natural sour flavor.
Forms of tamarind
Tamarind can most commonly be found in different forms such as raw pods, blocks of pulp, and concentrate. The raw form is the least processed and still intact for easy snacking. Blocks of tamarind paste are one of the most common forms you will find at most grocery stores. The concentrate is the most processed form of tamarind available. The pulp has been boiled down and preservatives may have been added. Another common form is tamarind paste.
Fun facts about tamarind
- In Victorian times, the British in Goa put tamarind in one ear when entering the native parts of the lands in order to free themselves from harassment. Locals believed that the fresh pods had malevolent demons. The British therefore got the name ‘tamarind heads”.6
- Tamarind can be used as a cleaning agent for brass, copper, or metal.7
- The ancient Egyptians cultivated tamarind.
- A tamarind tree can grow up to 80 feet.
- Tamarind is very strong in flavor.
- Spiegel, Alison. "What The Hell Is Tamarind, Anyway?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Oct. 2014. Web.
- "Health Benefits of Tamarind." Organic Facts. Organic Information Services, n.d. Web.
- Jennings, Kerri-Ann, MS, RD. "What Is Tamarind?" Authority Nutrition. Authority Nutrition, 17 Aug. 2016. Web.
- "What Is Tamarind Good For?" Mercola.com. Dr. Joseph Mercola, n.d. Web.
- Cardenas, Heidi. "What Is Tamarind?" LEAFtv. LEAFtv, n.d. Web.
- "Tamarind." The Epicentre. The Epicentre, n.d. Web.
- "Top 15 Health Benefits of Tamarind." YgoY. Herbs, n.d. Web.