Botanical Name: Tamarindus indica

Family: leguminosae

Hindi Name: Imli

Literally meaning the Arabic tamr hindi, or Date of India, this spice is native to East Africa. It is cultivated in all the countries in the tropics. In India, it is chiefly grown in Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Tamarind is actually the fruit pod produced by tall, semi­evergreen tree grown primarily in the southern regions of India. The beans and pulp with the pod have virtually no smell, but has extremely sour taste. Tamarind is available in whole pods, compressed block, in paste form or concentrates, and most likely to be found in Asian markets.

The tamarind pulp has the following composition:

  • Moisture: 18.2 %
  • Tartaric Acid: 9.8 %
  • Combined Acid: 6.7 %
  • Sugars: 38.2 %
  • Protein: 2.8 %
  • Pectin: 2.8 %
  • Fibre: 19.4 %
  • Minerals: 2.8 %
  • Calcium: 0.17 %
  • Phosphorus: 0.11 %
  • Iron: 0.011 %
  • Vit A: 100 IU/100g
  • Niacin: 0.2mg/100g

The main constituents of tamarind pulp are fruit acids and sugars. Small amounts of terpenes, phenylpropanoids, methyl salicylate, pyrazine and alkylthiazoles are present. Tamarind is the only important spice of East African origin. Today, it is a much valued food ingredient in many Asian and Latin American recipes.

In Vietnam and Thailand, the tamarind pods are preferred unripe, and used in tart soups or stews. The fruit of this tree, tamarind, is an indispensable spice in most South Indian kitchens. It is much valued in Javanese cooking. Here, it is taken as a basis for spicy and, sometimes, sweet sauces which are used to marinate meat or soya bean cheese, (tofu) before frying. A typical mixture might contain tamarind water besides soya sauce, garlic, and possibly ginger and galangal. Javanese food is unique for its sweet sour compositions, but this taste is much less dominant than in Chinese recipes. For the sour taste, tamarind is preferred to lemons.

The sour and fruity taste of tamarind merges well with the heat of chillies, giving many South Indian dishes their hot and sour character, and their dark colour.

In India, tamarind is mostly combined with meat or lentils, chicpeas or beans. Vindaloo, a South. Indian speciality, is a fiery pork stew from Goa, which is marinated with a paste made from ground onions, garlic, ginger, other spices and thick tamarind juice extract.

India, the only producer of tamarind on a commercial scale, exports it to Europe and the United State where it is used for food specialities like Worcestershire sauce.

In most Asian cooking, it is used extensively in making juices, soups, bean dishes and chutneys, and also in the preparation of seafood. Tamarind is used in Ayurvedic medicines. The ripe fruit is appetising, laxative, tonic, cooling and anti-billious. The bark which is an astringent and a tonic, reduces fever. The pulp is used in digestive disorders. It is also beneficial in the treatment of respiratory disorders, cholera and ulcer.

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