Tamarind: A Tart Tropical Legume

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The tamarind name comes from the Arabic term tamar hindi, which means Indian date. The leguminous tamarind tree is believed to originate in Africa but has been heavily cultivated in India since antiquity. It is likely that it was brought to the subcontinent by Arabian traders. In Africa, it grows wild in Nigeria as well as in Cameroon and other countries.

Historical documents show that tamarind was cultivated in Egypt as early as 400 BC and was known to the Greeks in this time period as well.

Tamarind was introduced to Mexico and to South America in the 16th century; the documentation suggests that it was brought to Acapulco from Asia by the Spanish. Today, you can find tamarind throughout South America and the Caribbean. Tamarind trees can also be found in Hawaii, where one of the first trees was first planted in 1797. It is a staple ingredient in Mexican cuisine and is used to a lesser extent in the West Indies. Mexico has over 10,000 acres dedicated to tamarind cultivation.

Tamarind flavor profile

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Tamarind may be best known to Americans as one of the flavors in Worcestershire sauce. Tamarind has a sweetness paired with a distinctive and intense sourness that is more pronounced in the dried fruit.

Health benefits of tamarind

Tamarind is a healthy ingredient in addition to being a flavorful one. Consider the fact that tamarind contains several health-enhancing compounds like these below:

  • Tartaric acid: Unlike sour fruits like lemons and limes, tamarind gets its acidity from tartaric acid. Not only is tartaric acid responsible for tamarind’s sour taste, it is also a powerful antioxidant. In addition to tamarind, it is found in both bananas and grapes. In addition to its antioxidant properties, the tartaric acid may help to boost the immune system.
  • Minerals: Tamarind is a good source of various minerals, including iron and magnesium. As a good source of iron, tamarind helps the transportation of oxygen by red blood cells. A 100 g serving of tamarind provides 35 percent of your daily recommended iron intake. Magnesium is important for a range of bodily functions and is needed for a steady heartbeat as well as for strong bones. Tamarind provides 23 percent of your daily magnesium.
  • Vitamins: Tamarind contains a significant amount of vitamin B1, which is also known as thiamin. A 100 g serving gives you 36 percent of the B1 you need on a daily basis. You need B1 for the growth and function of cells as well as for energy metabolism.
  • Dietary fiber: Tamarind is a rich source of dietary fiber. A 100 g serving provides a little over 5 g of fiber, which is roughly 13 percent of your daily recommended intake.

Tamarind may be used for treating or preventing conditions such as:

  • Constipation: The fiber in tamarind can ease the passage of stool through the digestive tract, which makes it an effective treatment for constipation.
  • Heart health: Studies have shown tamarind to be effective for lowering both blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol).
  • Diabetes: Tamarind is used to help improve glucose tolerance. It is an alpha amylase inhibitor, which means that it can prevent carbohydrates from being absorbed and converted to sugar.

Common uses of tamarind

In addition to its use in Worcestershire sauce, tamarind’s numerous culinary uses include as a seasoning for fish and meats in India. In Mexico and the Caribbean, tamarind is a popular flavoring for beverages. In Puerto Rico, it is made into a syrup that is poured over shaved ice. It can also be made into a jelly or into a jam.