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The Sweet and Sour Goodness of Tamarind

My Magazine 2023/07
5 min
Tamarind, also known as Tamarindus Indica, is a brown pod-like fruit that grows on trees in tropical regions worldwide. It has a sweet and sour flavour that is often compared to dates and prunes. The fruit contains pulp, seeds, and fibres, surrounded by a hard outer shell. The pulp is the most commonly used part of the fruit, and it is available in various forms, such as whole pods, paste, concentrate, and powder. The pulp of the young fruit is green and sour. As it ripens, the juicy pulp becomes paste-like and more sweet-sour. The seeds and leaves are also edible. The partially dried fruit is used to make medicine.

Tamarind is very popular in the Indian subtropical region as well as South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central America, Africa and the Caribbean. The delicacies of India, Thailand and Mexico, in particular, have foods which use a great deal of tamarind in their cuisines. Tamarind is thought to have been transported to Asia by human migration. The Spanish and Portuguese introduced Tamarind to Central and South America, which they discovered on their travels. Interestingly, tamarind is sometimes referred to as the "Date of India." However, it does make an entry into a few West African recipes and is readily available in The Gambia and used in sauces and accompaniments to a main meal. 

Tamarind is used in sauces, marinades, chutneys, drinks, and desserts. It's also one of the ingredients of Worcestershire sauce. The tamarind seed naturally emits pectin, meaning that once used in a cooked recipe, it will thicken naturally without starch or gelatin.

You can also find pure fruit in three primary forms:

  1. Raw pods - These pods are the least processed form of tamarind. They're still intact and can be easily opened to remove the pulp.
  2. Pressed block - To make these, the shell and seeds are removed and the pulp is compressed into a block. These blocks are one step away from raw tamarind.
  3. Concentrate - Tamarind concentrate is a pulp that has been boiled down. Preservatives may also be added.


Unveiling the Medicinal Marvels

In addition to its culinary uses, tamarind also has several medicinal properties, such as -

  1. It is rich in antioxidants.
  2. Tamarind also has anti-inflammatory properties due to the presence of polyphenols and flavonoids. These compounds help reduce inflammation in the body, which can lead to conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. 
  3. Tamarind is rich in various nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibres. The fruit contains high amounts of vitamin C, which helps boost the immune system and aids in iron absorption. Additionally, tamarind is rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which are essential for healthy bones, muscles, and nerves. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in over 600 bodily functions, including lowering blood pressure and diabetes. 
  4. Tamarind beverages are often consumed in hot countries to refresh and regulate body temperatures and reduce fever. 
  5. Tamarind pulp has long been known as a laxative, while tamarind leaves used in a tisane work by controlling diarrhoea. One of the most notable health benefits of tamarind is its ability to aid in digestion and prevent acid reflux, thereby improving gut health. The fruit is rich in dietary fibre, which helps regulate bowel movements and prevents constipation. The fibre also binds to cholesterol and toxins in the gut, helping to eliminate them from the body. 
  6. It is also taken for liver and gallbladder problems and effectively treats pregnancy-related nausea. 
  7. Tamarind is said to possess anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. 
  8. Being rich in polyphenols and flavonoids, tamarind has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, thereby lowering the risk of atherosclerosis. The dried pulp was also found to have anti-hypertensive effects, reducing diastolic blood pressure. 
  9. Tamarind can help regulate blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that the fruit contains compounds that help slow down the absorption of carbohydrates in the body. This helps prevent spikes in blood sugar levels, making it beneficial for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition. 
  10. Tamarind is rich in B vitamins, especially pyridoxine or B6, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine or B1 and folate or vitamin B9. These are essential for the smooth functioning of the brain and nervous system. It stimulates nerve function and also improves muscle growth. 
  11. Moreover, it can also protect from intestinal and urinary tract infections because it is rich in potassium, which helps in aiding the excretion of toxins from the kidneys. 
  12. Tamarind has been used in traditional medicine to treat rheumatism and inflammation of the throat and mouth. 
  13. Consuming moderate amounts of tamarind juice daily can help boost your skin, hair, and overall health. Thanks to its antibacterial properties, tamarind seeds can also help protect your skin from infections.

The high levels of tartaric acid also make tamarind perfect for cleaning brass, copper and silver items.

A Word of Caution

Avoid taking tamarind along with anti-inflammatory drugs. Tamarind is also found to increase the bioavailability of the antiplatelet drug aspirin, thus increasing the absorption of aspirin in the blood. So avoid consuming tamarind if you are on antiplatelet drugs like aspirin.

Tamarind is an excellent addition to any diet, and its unique sweet-sour flavour can add depth and complexity to a wide range of dishes. Whether you use it in a marinade, a sauce, or as a snack, tamarind is a delicious and nutritious way to add flavour and health benefits to your meals.

Want to try tamarind and other goodies? Come shopping with us at Serrekunda market - or any market of your choice!

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