This article will discuss tamarind, one of the most versatile health foods available. Tamarind is a fruit that grows in a pod. It is very dark in color and sour in taste. This ingredient is used in both sweet and savory dishes, mostly depending on which cuisine the dish is from. Here in the United States it is not a common ingredient, except in ethnic cooking because it is not an indigenous food, since it does not grow here. Tamarind originated in Africa and needs a more tropical environment for growing. There is only one species of tamarind and it is used quite a bit in Asian cuisines. Tamarind is also popular in Mexican cuisine. India is the world largest producer/grower in the world and tamarind is used extensively in their foods. India produces 275,500 tons of tamarind a year.

Although it is considered a fruit it could also be classified as a legume, as it is a seed that grows in a pod. Although food is one of the main uses, it also is used widespread in other industries. The wood from the tree is used for making chopping blocks, carved items and furniture as well many other uses. Tamarind is also used as a metal polish in homes and temples throughout Asia. It works well on brass, copper and bronze. Asian folklore says tamarind works as a laxative so it is used for constipation and it is also used for fevers, sore throat, rheumatism, inflammation and sunstroke. On a brighter note it is used for decoration, often grown as a bonsai tree.

The fleshy acidic pulp is surrounded by a hard brown shell. Asian tamarind trees produce pods that hold between six and twelve seeds, while the African and West Indian contain one to six seeds. It takes three to four years for a tree to bear fruit, and a full grown tree can produce 375 pounds of fruit per year. Pods can be purchased whole in many Asian markets, but then you need to process them, or you can buy the tamarind paste already processed. To process a pod you need to separate the flesh from the pod and remove the pit. The pulp is then boiled down to a paste the consistency like molasses. Personally I prefer to buy it.

The health benefits of this fruit are numerous. Tamarind helps people with weight loss and can improve digestion. It also can help against certain cancers. It is loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron and potassium and carotene.

Tamarind adds a sweet and tart flavor profile to foods. It has hints of citrus flavoring to it. The amount to use is dependent on which form you buy so be very aware of what form you are using. They can be purchased as whole pods, but then you need to process them as mentioned earlier. These can be found in Asian and Hispanic markets. Another form is as a pressed block. This is the most common form. This is just pulp with the shell and seeds removed. You should check the pulp before using it since some seeds and broken shell might get through processing. There are two concentrates available, the first being a regular paste and the second being black concentrate. The regular paste is usable out of the jar, as is. One tablespoon of this product is equivalent to one and a half tablespoons of pulp. Thailand is a big exporter of this product. You need to be careful of ones that are “Product of U.S.A.” since they usually contain high fructose corn syrup. The other concentrate comes from India and is super concentrated. You should dilute this product with water to get the flavor of regular tamarind paste. The ratio of dilution should be about two parts water to one part concentrate, depending on the flavor profile you desire.

Tamarind can have some negative side effects as well. One is it may interact with some medicines creating bleeding. It also can have interactions with certain antibiotics. There are people with allergies that may have a reaction to tamarind and it can raise blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should take special care if this if it is a frequently used ingredient. Due to the high acidity, tooth enamel might erode as well as inducing acid reflux. Huge amounts of tamarind also can make the body develop gallstones.