This article Tamarind the spice, describes what it is, where it comes from and how it can be used in the culinary sense. It also contains other background information on Tamarind.
What is Tamarind?
The spice Tamarind is the flesh or pulp found in the seed pods of the Tamarind tree. The damp brown colored flesh surrounds up to 10 seeds in each pod of the Indian Tamarind tree.
The name English name Tamarind comes from the Arabic ‘tamar u’l Hind’ which translates to date or fruit of India.
It’s Latin names is Tamarindus indica
Tamarind in cookery
There are two types of Tamarind produced depending when in the season the seed pods are harvested.
The early crop when the seed pods are unripe and the pulp is a lighter green in colour has a distinctly sour taste with a slight sweetness.
The later crop of mature seed pods is less sour and is balanced with a much sweeter taste. The tamarind from this crop is often known as ‘Sweet Tamarind’
The Tamarind flavour
Tamarind that has been allowed to fully ripen contains both sugars and up to 20% tartaric acid. This gives Tamarind its distinctly tart but sweet and sour taste. A common use is for souring in savoury dishes and in marinades.
The pulp from the Tamarind seed pods is compressed and sold dried in blocks or cakes. Before being used to spice a dish, pieces need to be broken of the block or cake and generally soaked in water.
If the Tamarind pulp doesn’t contain seeds, break off a piece that is roughly equal to a heaped tablespoon’s worth. If your Tamarind pulp is complete with seeds, use a piece that is roughly equal to one and a half heaped tablespoons.
In both cases soak the pulp in a quarter of a cup of warm water for 20 minutes and then knead the pulp until it has dissolved. Strain to remove the pulp fibres and seeds. It’s then ready for use!
Tamarind is also available as a paste needing no preparation before use. Occasionally Tamarind is available in powder form.
How Tamarind is used cooking
The sweet and sour taste of tamarind blends well with hot spices like chillies giving a sour element to the overall taste.
It is used to add tartness and darken the colouring of a dish.
Examples of how Tamarind is used
Tamarind and cooking in Southern india
One of the most famous dishes of Indian cuisine is Vindaloo which comes from Southern India.
The dish originates from the Goa area and was originally introduced by the Portuguese who called it Porco Vinho e Alho which literally translates to Pork, Wine and Garlic.
Goa has a large Christian community (A Portuguese legacy) who make Vindaloo based on Pork. Hindu and Muslim communities base theirs on chicken.
The meat content of Vindaloo is Pork is marinated in a paste based on vinegar which differs from the original which used wine. The meat is left to absorb the flavours of the marinade for several hours.
The marinade and meat is then mixed with Tamarind water, stewed and reduced until the meat is tender, the sauce is creamy in consistency and has absorbed the sour taste from the Tamarind water.
Tamarind is used to sour curries and sauces.
Lentils and rice are often cooked in Tamarind water to flavour them. Rasam and Sambhar dishes use marinades that include Tamarind for meat before it is fried.
Cooking with Tamarind in the Philippines
Tamarind is used extensively in Filipino cooking.
It is used as a base flavouring for many soups. Probably the most notable is Sinigang which is well known for its tart flavour.
Sweet Tamarind which is still quite tart in flavour is used in deserts and to flavour drinks. Tamarind that is harvested while quite young or unripe (Has a sour taste) is used in marinades for meat.
More general uses of Tamarind in food and drinks
Tamarind makes superb chutney. I will put a recipe in the Chutneys category.
The Tamarind seeds are ground into flour for bread making.
Tamarind pulp is used in the manufacture of carbonated drinks, often in conjunction with other spices such as pepper, ginger and lime.
Tamarind is also used as a preservative in ice creams, jams and is also an ingredient in Worcester sauce.
The future of Tamarind
A study was carried out by the International Centre for Underutilized Crops which a part of the University of Southampton on under utilised fruits. Click on the link to read the study’s tamarind factsheet.
Other information about Tamarind
More information about Tamarind including its alternative names around the globe, where the Tamarind tree grows and who produces the spice.
Tamarind is known by many names around the world
Hindi – Imli
Germany – Tamarinde, Sauerdattel or Indische Dattel
French – Tamarin
Bengali – Tentul
Malaya – Puli, Valanpuli, Pulimaram
Vietnam – Trái me, Me chua or Cây me
Indonesia – Asam kuning or Asam jawa
Thailand – Ma kham, Mak kham peak or Kham
Philipines – Sampaloc datteln
The Tamarind tree, where its grown and its origins
The Tamarind tree can grow up to approximately 25 metres in height. It is a dense evergreen tree with pinnate type leaves, each having between 10 to 15 pairs of leaflets.
The Tamarind tree grows predominantly in India where it is heavily cultivated on a commercial basis but also grown decoratively particularly to provide shade. Additionally, it is grown commercially in Africa, the Phillapines, both Central and South America and the West Indies.
Although the Tamarind tree is thought of by many as a native Indian tree because of the sheer number and ages it has grown there, the Tamarind tree originated in Africa.
Visit other herbs and spices on this site
Try making this Tamarind Jam! I first tasted it in the Philippines. It’s delicious and you won’t regret it!
Tamarind is used as a marinade in my Chili & Garlic Pork Salad recipe