What Is Tamarind Good For?

Tapping in on Tamarind
Botanical name: Tamarindus indica

Tamarind Nutrition Facts

Considered one of the most important multipurpose tropical fruit trees in the Indian subcontinent, the tamarind tree (scientifically known as Tamarindus indica L.) is a large evergreen tree that’s said to be native to Africa, particularly in Madagascar.

Its pod was first thought to be produced by Indian palms, as its name comes from the Persian term "tamar-I-hind," meaning "date of India."1

Nowadays, tamarind is widely cultivated in semi-arid countries in Asia such as Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar, as well as in several African, Australian, Central American and South American countries.2

Tamarind belongs to the Fabaceae family of plants,3 making it a relative of peas, beans and other legumes.4 It produces long and curved brown pods that look like large and overly mature green beans.

Each pod is filled with three to 12 small brown seeds, which are surrounded by fibrous reddish-brown pulp that tastes sweet and acidic.

As the tamarind pods mature, the pulp dehydrates naturally into a sticky paste.5 This deliciously tangy pulp is one of the most important food items produced by the tamarind. It can be eaten as is or used as seasoning for soups, relishes, sauces and curries. Its acidic flavor also complements the sweetness of fruits, making it a good ingredient for jellies, jams, sherbets and fruit preserves.

Aside from the pulp, the tamarind flowers and leaves are also sometimes consumed as vegetables, while its seeds are roasted, boiled or made into flour for baking. Unripe tamarind pods can be used as flavoring for rice, fish and meats as well.6 Processed tamarind products can be found in supermarkets, but remember that they may contain additives. It’s better to purchase tamarind when it's fresh and still in the pod. Refrigeration is the best way to preserve its freshness for up to several months.7

Health Benefits of Tamarind

Like most ancient foods, tamarind has a long history of medicinal use. It was traditionally used to help ease stomach discomfort, aid digestion and promote better bowel movement. Tamarind preparations are also used to help relieve fever, sore throat, rheumatism, inflammation and heat stroke. Meanwhile, dried or boiled tamarind leaves and flowers are made into poultices for swollen joints, sprains, boils, hemorrhoids and conjunctivitis.8

Similar to the natural gums and pectins found in other foods, the sticky pulp of tamarind contains non-starch polysaccharides,9 which contribute to its dietary fiber content. They bind with bile to help flush waste through the colon.10

Tamarind is also a good source of thiamin, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, as well tartaric acid, which provides not just a zing to the taste buds11 but also powerful antioxidant action, zapping harmful free radicals floating through your system.12 It also provides your body with niacin, calcium, vitamin C, copper and pyridoxine.13  

Other beneficial phytochemicals found in tamarind include limonene, geraniol (a natural antioxidant with a rose-like scent14), safrole (a natural oil also found in sassafras15), cinnamic acid, methyl salicylate (a plant essence with counter irritant properties16) and pyrazine.17 Each of these compounds brings its own flavor and healing property to the fruit's overall composition. To learn more about tamarind’s nutritional value, check out the table below:18

Tamarind Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 239 12%
Calories from Fat 5.0  
Total Fat 0.6 g 1%
Saturated Fat 0.3 g 1%
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 28 mg 1%
Total Carbohydrates 62.5 g 21%
Dietary Fiber 5.1 g 20%
Sugar 57.4 g 6%
Protein 2.8 g  
Vitamin A 1% Vitamin C 6%
Calcium 7% Iron 16%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Studies on Tamarind

Known to be useful in traditional medicine for diabetes and obesity, tamarind seed extract underwent examination to see if its high levels of polyphenols and flavonoids might increase glucose uptake in such patients. The positive expression showed a marked anti-diabetic effect, indicating the possibility of formulating a new tamarind seed extract-based herbal drug for diabetes therapy.19

In another study, many of the traditional medical uses for phytochemical-rich tamarind extracts were reported by researchers as useful in modern medicine as well. Successful therapies included pain, diarrhea and dysentery, parasitic infection, fever, constipation, and inflammation. Tamarind extract is also reported to have antimicrobial, anti-venom, antioxidant and wound-healing properties, and is found to be effective against diabetes, malaria and asthma.20

Study also shows that geraniol, one of the phytochemicals found in tamarind, may help suppress pancreatic tumor growth in lab studies, without significantly affecting blood cholesterol levels. In conclusion, scientists reported geraniol as warranting further investigation for pancreatic cancer prevention and treatment.21

Tamarind Healthy Recipes:
Thai Tamarind Chicken Stir-Fry

Tamarind Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

4 boneless free-range chicken thighs, sliced into bite-size pieces

1 teaspoon arrowroot powder

3 tablespoons traditional soy sauce

3 tablespoons coconut oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 thumb-sized ginger, sliced into matchstick-like pieces

2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar (ACV)

8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced

A handful fresh basil or fresh coriander

Procedure:

  1. Dissolve the arrowroot powder in soy sauce and pour the mixture over the chicken, stirring well to make sure every piece is coated.
  2. Make the tamarind stir-fry sauce by mixing all ingredients together in a cup. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning according to your preferences.
  3. Heat a large frying pan over high or medium-high heat. Drizzle in the coconut oil, and then add the garlic, ginger and marinated chicken.
  4. Stir-fry for about two to three minutes, or until the chicken is opaque when sliced through. Add a little ACV whenever the pan starts to become dry; pour 1 tablespoon at a time as you stir-fry.
  5. Add the mushrooms, then start adding the tamarind sauce 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time. Continue stir-frying in this way until all the sauce has been added and the chicken and mushrooms are cooked, about four to five minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and serve with fresh basil sprinkled over.
  7. (Recipe adapted from The Spruce Eats22)

Tamarind Fun Facts

In the Bahamas, large but still unripe tamarind fruits called "swells" are roasted in coals until their skin bursts open. The sizzling pulp is then dipped in wood ashes and eaten as a quick snack.23

Summary

The tamarind is a condiment, a spice and a fruit. Its extract, which tastes deliciously tangy, is one of the most highly valued foods in Asian and Indian cuisine.24 It contains impressive amounts of essential minerals such as thiamin, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. Some of its other prominent nutrients include niacin, calcium, vitamin C, copper, fiber and pyridoxine.25

Together, these nutrients make tamarind a uniquely beneficial food. In fact, it’s traditionally used to relieve various health issues like stomach and digestive ailments, fever, sore throat, rheumatism, inflammation and heat stroke, among others.26

Dozens of tamarind recipes, are available on the internet for those desiring a fresh and unique culinary opportunity. A simple one is tamarind water, used in many Indian and Asian dishes. To make this, you simply have to soak tamarind pulp in water and strain the mixture.27 You can add this your stir-fries, sauces or curries.

Remember to consume tamarind in moderation, as it contains high amounts of fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts.