Known as the ‘Indian date’ tamarind is a versatile fruit used all over the world in everything from chutney to desserts, marinades and stews. In Asian cooking, tamarind is used as a base for savoury dishes or sometimes stirred into drinks and relishes. In other parts of the world, tamarind sweets and candies are popular. It’s even used in British Worcestershire sauce.
The tree is often thought to be indigenous to the Indian continent, however tamarind originates from tropical Africa and was later transported to India. In the 16th century it was introduced to Mexico and South America where it is used extensively. Today, India is the largest producer of tamarind followed by the US.
What does it look like?
The tamarind is a bushy tree which grows up to 59 feet in height. A mature tree is capable of producing up to 386lb (175kg) of fruit per year. The leaves are evergreen, bright green in colour whilst the flowers are red and yellow. The fruit is found in a bean-like hard brown shell known as a pod. Inside the pod are a few inedible large seeds and an edible, sticky, reddish brown flesh. When the pod is young, the pulp is very sour and is often used as a pickling agent. Once ripe however, the fruit is sweeter and less acidic and tastes a bit like a sour date. It can be eaten fresh or is used in desserts as a jam, blended into juices or sweetened drinks, sorbets and ice-creams. In
agua de tamarindo is a very popular drink, made by boiling tamarind
pods, removing the pulp and straining the water, and adding sugar. Mexico
In Indian food, tamarind can be used to make sauces or curries and as a flavouring for meals and snacks. Tamarind chutney is very popular in north
, made by soaking tamarind
pods, squeezing the pulp and mixing with jaggery (cane sugar). Across the India Middle East tamarind is often mixed with dry fruits and
added to savoury dishes and meat based stews. Combined with chilli in south India and in it’s used to make the
famous Pad Thai noodle dish. Thailand
With a unique, strong, sweet and sour taste tamarind is high is tartaric acid, vitamin B and, unusually for a fruit, calcium. It comes in seeded form, or the pulp can be pressed to form a cake or processed to make a paste. If still in the shell, the best way to prepare is to break the shell and remove the sticky pulp by hand.
Beef marinated overnight in a tamarind infused liquid becomes more tenderised and succulent. Medicinally the fruit is used as a poultice applied to the foreheads of fever sufferers. It is thought to cure conjunctivitis and is also used for treating dry eye syndrome. Rich in antioxidants tamarind can protect the body from diseases like cancer and lowers cholesterol. It’s also great for polishing brass and copper mixed with a bit of salt and water.
Serves 4 to 5
15 large prawns with shell and tail
4 oz fresh tamarind
2 tbsp veg oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp of water
1. Remove tamarind pulp by breaking pods and removing with hands, removing seeds. Rinse under running water.
2. Peel and de-vein the prawns leaving tail on.
3. Marinate prawns with tamarind pulp and sugar.
4. Heat oil in wok or deep frying pan. When heated toss in the prawns together with tamarind pulp.
5. Mix together dark soy sauce, soy sauce, minced garlic and water and pour over prawns.
6. Fry on medium heat for around 4 minutes stirring until prawns are evenly coated in sauce . When almost ready turn heat on high so that the shells become slightly charred and gravy caramelised.
6. Transfer to serving plate and serve on a bed of cucumber with rice.