Spices and herbs add the “X factor” to any dish. Salt, chilies, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, turmeric cumin, fennel, and coriander seeds are the most common occupants of a spice rack. Another essential and ancient tastemaker is Tamarind.
Tamarind is a sour-sweet fruit pod. It is extensively used in Indian and African cuisines. It is also used in a few Asian and Middle Eastern preparations. Tamarind imparts a tangy-sweet flavor to a dish. The extracts of this fruit have been used in ancient medicine to treat snake bites, malaria, diabetes, constipation, and several acute and chronic conditions. Many such interesting facts and benefits are listed in this article. Start scrolling!
Table Of Contents
The Tamarind Tale: What Is Tamarind? Where Can You Find It?
The tamarind (Tamarindus indica) tree is native to tropical Africa. It was introduced eons ago to India. Indians adopted it so well that it became (almost) indigenous to their country. Arabs and Persians picked this ingredient from the peninsula and called it tamar hind (which means ‘Indian date’) (1).
It is called ‘tamarindo’ in Spanish and Portuguese; ‘tamarin’, ‘tamarinier’, ‘tamarinier des Indes’, or ‘tamarindier’ in French. It is ‘tamarinde’ in German and ‘tamarandizio’ in Italian. It is known as ‘ambli’, ‘imli’, ‘chinch’, or tamarind in India. In Cambodia, it is ‘ampil’ or ‘khoua me’; and ‘ma-kharm’ in Thailand. In Vietnamese, it is just ‘me’! It is used in various cuisines across the world, hence the several names (1).
Origin Of Tamarind
Tamarind is mistaken for having an Indian origin. Its botanical name, indica, also supports this myth. However, the tree was naturalized in Hawaii around 1797.
In fact, tamarind was introduced in tropical America, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the West Indies much earlier (1).
The slow-growing, enormous tamarind tree bears pod-like fruits. These pods contain highly acid (and super tangy) flesh. The soft, whitish, under-developed seeds are enveloped in these pods.
Once they mature, the pods become juicy. The pulp turns brown, sticky, and fibrous. The outer skin turns into an easily cracked shell. The seeds grow hard and glossy brown.
Both raw and ripe tamarind fruits are used extensively in cooking. It used as a condiment in curries, sauces, pestos, and dips. Tamarind is also cooked with rice, fish, and meat as a central ingredient in some cuisines (2).
In other words, tamarind finds its way into almost every kitchen.
But what could be the reason behind its global popularity? It can’t just be because of its taste, can it?
True. Tamarind is known for several therapeutic properties. It serves as an excellent laxative and carminative. It has potent anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties as well. Tamarind is a staple remedy for joint pain, sore throat, swollen joints, conjunctivitis, and hemorrhoids (1).
The next section is all about the benefits of tamarind and why you shouldn’t spit it out if it is in your food. Check it out!
How Is Tamarind Beneficial To Your Health?
Tamarind is a well-known home remedy for managing constipation, diabetes, skin health, and microbial infections. It is also proven to aid weight loss and prevent cardiovascular diseases. Let’s validate these beliefs with some scientific evidence!
1. Aids Weight Management
Obesity is linked to heart, liver, kidney, and several metabolic disorders. Researchers have studied the effect of tamarind on weight management and obesity in rat studies. Tamarind pulp was found to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good cholesterol (HDL) content in plasma (3).
This anti-obesity effect was seen when rats on a high-fat diet received 5, 25, or 50 mg/kg of tamarind pulp extract orally for 10 weeks. This study also resulted in body weight loss in these rats (3).
Moreover, this extract reduced the activity of fatty acid synthase (FAS). FAS is an enzyme that promotes the formation of adipose tissue in your body. It also prevents the oxidation of lipids by free radicals. The rat study demonstrated the antioxidant properties of this extract as well (3).
2. Relieves Stomach Ache And Constipation
Tamarind has traditionally been used as a laxative because it has high amounts of malic and tartaric acids. Tamarind also contains potassium bitartrate, which, along with other active ingredients, relieves constipation (4).
Constipation and diarrhea often cause abdominal pain. Tamarind bark and root extracts have been proven to be effective in curing stomach ache. In Nigeria, soaked tamarind is eaten to deal with constipation (4).
Rasam is a South Indian preparation that is made of spices, tamarind, cumin, black pepper, and mustard. It is eaten with rice to promote digestion (5).
3. Mitigates Liver Injury
Chronic inflammation in your body indirectly affects your liver. This has been proven with the help of rat studies. In one such study, rats with arthritis were given tamarind seed extract. The results showed a reduction in oxidative stress (6).
The active procyanidins in tamarind extract countered free radical damage of the liver. Depletion in the levels of inflammatory markers like glutathione, total thiols, glutathione peroxidase, and reductase was also noted (6), (7).
The minerals found in tamarind – like copper, nickel, manganese, selenium, and iron – are involved in improving your body’s defense against oxidative stress. Selenium, along with vitamin E, protects the lipid content in liver cells from free radical attack (7).
4. Controls Hypertension And Heart Health
The dried pulp of tamarind fruits was found to have anti-hypertensive effects. Tamarind pulp has been found to reduce the level of cholesterol, particularly LDL, at a dose of 15 mg/kg body weight (8).
It also significantly reduced diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Animal studies have demonstrated the anti-atherosclerotic effect of this fruit. Thus, tamarind extract has a high potential to lower the risk of atherosclerosis in humans as well (9).
The fruit extract was able to heal the atherosclerotic lesions in hamsters. Moreover, active tamarind molecules possess anti-inflammatory effects. They can tone down the severity of atherosclerosis and several cardiovascular diseases (9).
5. Manages Diabetes and Hyperglycemia
One of the major causes of diabetes is inflammation of pancreatic cells – especially those cells that produce insulin (ß-cells). Since tamarind can inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals like TNF-α, it can protect the pancreas from inflammation-induced damage (10), (11).
The seeds of this fruit can boost the neogenesis (production of new cells) of pancreatic ß-cells. This may restore the ability to produce required amounts of insulin in patients with diabetes (9), (11).
6. Prevents Malaria And Microbial Diseases
Tamarind has been used as a febrifuge (fever-control medicine) in traditional medicine. African tribes in Ghana use the leaves of tamarind to treat malaria (9). This fruit also has a broad-spectrum antimicrobial property (9).
Extracts of tamarind have shown significant inhibitory effect against Burkholderia pseudomallei, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Salmonella paratyphi, Bacillus subtilis, Salmonella typhi, and Staphylococcus aureus (9).
Various parts of this plant have been used to cure malaria. Similar fevers caused due to bacterial infections can also be managed with tamarind extracts. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties also play a critical role in such cases.
7. Exfoliates And Lightens Your Skin
The pulp of tamarind fruit has been used as a natural skin scrub since olden days. It promotes smoother and lighter skin because of the presence of alpha-hydroxyl acids (AHAs). The AHAs in tamarind pulp include tartaric acid (8–23.8%), lactic acid (2%), citric acid, and malic acid. These AHAs, along with pectin and inverted sugar, hydrate and moisturize your skin (13).
Tamarind pulp is said to possess skin lightening properties too. A study with 11 male volunteers was conducted to investigate the effect of tamarind seed extract on skin tone. The seed extract was applied/massaged twice a day on their cheeks for 12 weeks (13), (14).
There was a relative decrease in skin melanin and sebum contents when the test product was applied. This could be attributed to the presence of antioxidant polyphenols in tamarind. These compounds eliminate free radicals in your body and, thus, indirectly reduce the melanin content in your skin (14).
That is why tamarind is a household name. This sour-sweet fruit is a staple in several cuisines. Its integral place in the kitchen is because of its excellent nutritional value. Check out the next section to find out more.
Nutritional Value of Tamarind
|NUTRITIONAL VALUE PER 1 CUP, PULP 120 g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||0.72|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||75.00|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||6.1|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||4.2|
|Vitamin A, RAE||µg||2|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||36|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||0.12|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||3.4|
(Source: United States Department of Agriculture)
Tamarind contains a variety of biologically active phytochemical compounds. Predominantly, it has catechin, epicatechin, proanthocyanidins, apigenin, luteolin, naringenin, taxifolin, eriodictyol, and other phenolic polymers (15).
Tamarind leaf pulp contains pipecolic acid, nicotinic acid, 1-malic acid, geraniol, limonene, pipecolic acid, lupanone, lupeol, orientin, isoorientin, vitexin, isovitexin, cinnamates, serine, pectin, tannins, and glycosides (4).
Tamarind fruits commonly contain tannins, succinic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, and pectin. Its seeds contain campesterol, β-amyrin, β-sitosterol, oleic acid, palmitic acid, linoleic acid, and eicosanoic acid. Cellulose, albuminoid amyloids, and phytohemagglutinin were also found in traces (4).
The phytochemicals and nutrients of tamarind act in synergy to produce its miraculous benefits.
Aren’t you excited to use tamarind in your cooking? Here are a few tips on how to use and store tamarind.
How To Use And Store Tamarind
There are various ways you can use tamarind in your cooking.
One of the simplest ways to extract the pulp of this fruit is by soaking it.
- Soak a small piece of tamarind in warm water.
- Leave it in the water for about 10 minutes until it softens. Squeeze and squish the tamarind piece with your fingers.
- Strain the juice and discard the pulp.
The next method takes a bit longer.
You will need to soak ,refrigerate, and extract the pulp.
- Place a handful of semi-dried tamarind pieces in a glass container that has a lid.
- Pour enough drinking water to immerse the pieces.
- Close the lid and place the container in the refrigerator.
- Leave it overnight
- By next morning, the chunks of tamarind will soften and be ready to use!
- Squeeze the sufficient pulp and store the rest of the soft tamarind.
- Cover the container once you are done. Let the rest remain in the refrigerator until it lasts.
Now comes the elaborate and (a little) messier way of extracting the pulp.
In this method, you soak, squeeze, and boil the tamarind.
- Add 5-6 ounces of tamarind pieces and 2 cups of water to a microwave-safe bowl.
- Heat it in the microwave for about a minute until the pieces soften.
- Let the contents cool down completely.
- Once cooled, squish out the pulp from the soaked tamarind pieces using your fingers.
- Add small amounts of water and keep squeezing the pulp until the yield ceases.
- At the end of this, you will have a slurry of tamarind pulp in water.
- Run the slurry through a mesh/sieve/strainer to collect the juice in a colander.
- Add more water to the remaining pulp in the sieve and squeeze it to extract the last traces of tamarind juice.
- You should only be left with the fiber and seeds from the fruit when you are done.
- Discard the solid waste and transfer the juice to a saucepan.
- Boil the contents for 1-2 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes. The juice should thicken to a soupy-syrupy consistency by now.
- Remove from heat and let it cool completely.
- Pour the fresh tamarind syrup into a clean, sterile jar.
- Refrigerate until the next use.
- Use a clean, dry spoon to take out the tamarind syrup.
- Refrigerate the rest. Don’t leave the spoon/ladle in the bottle.
This method should keep the tamarind extract edible for about three months. If you use tamarind in your cooking every day, the above method is probably the best. It saves you time and effort without compromising on the taste!
You can try the method you prefer and enjoy the benefits of tamarind. Including tamarind in your food can fulfil the recommended daily requirement of several minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
Should that worry you? Read on to find out.
Does Tamarind Have Any Side Effects Or Risks?
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers tamarind fruit to be safe and non-toxic. Rat studies have shown no mortality/toxicity even after the administration of 5000 mg/kg and 3000 mg/kg doses of its extract (16).
However, your kidneys might be affected by mineral overload. It would be better to meet a nutritionist/healthcare provider to decide on the upper limit of tamarind intake for you (16).
There is insufficient data to understand the safety of consuming tamarind for pregnant and nursing women.
Also, if you are on antihypertensive or anti-diabetic drug medication, it is better to consume only small amounts of this fruit extract. Some might even advise you against its usage. None of these claims have been proven, though.
Tamarind is the central ingredient of Indian and several indigenous Asian dishes. Traditional medicine considers this fruit and its parts a remedy for a host of conditions.
Its leaves, fruit, seeds, bark, stems, branches, and flowers (almost every part) have high therapeutic value. The anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, catechins, tannins, polyphenolic acids, minerals, vitamins, sugars, and other phytonutrients make tamarind an ingredient you cannot miss.
Try our simple and long-lasting ways to use and store tamarind. You can master any curry recipe with our tamarind syrup! Cook up curries, soups, or pestos/chutneys with it. Share your sour-sweet experiences with us in the comments box below. We’d love some honest feedback too.
Good luck with taming the tamarind!
- “Tamarind” Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, Purdue University.
- “SPICES, Exotic Flavors & Medicines” History & Special Collections, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, University of California.
- “Antiobesity effect of Tamarindus indica L. pulp aqueous extract in…” Original Paper, Journal of Natural Medicines, Springer, Academia.
- “Medicinal uses & pharmacological activity of Tamarindus indica” Review article, World Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Academia.
- “A Comprehensive Review on Rasam: A South Indian Traditional…” Pharmacognosy Review, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Tamarind seed extract mitigates the liver oxidative stress in arthritic rats.” Food & Function., US National Library of Medicine.
- “Antioxidant and Hepatoprotective Activity of a New Tablets…” Research Article, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Hindawi Publishing Corporation.
- “Effect of Tamarindus indica fruits on blood pressure and lipid…” Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Tamarindus indica: Extent of explored potential” Pharmacognosy Review, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Anti-inflammatory action of Tamarind seeds reduces hyperglycemic…” Pharmaceutical Biology, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Hypoglycemic and Hypolipidemic Effect of Seed Hydromethanolic Extract…” Original Article, American Journal of Phytomedicine and Clinical Therapeutics.
- “Evaluation of the aphrodisiac potential of a chemically characterized…” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Cleansing lotion containing tamarind fruit pulp extract…” Research Article, ScienceAsia.
- “Skin Lightening and Sebum Control Efficacy of a Cosmetic…” Latin American Journal of Pharmacy, Academia.
- “Isolation and structure elucidation of phenolic antioxidants from…” Food and Chemical Toxicology, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Six-Month Chronic Toxicity Study of Tamarind Pulp (Tamarindus indica L.) Water Extract” Scientia Pharmaceutica, US National Library of Medicine.
- Top 10 Side Effects Of Tamarind
- 13 Amazing Health Benefits Of Tamarind Leaves
- 6 Amazing Tamarind Face Packs And Uses
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