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Category: Food



Introduction and description


Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) is a leguminous tree in the family Fabaceae indigenous to tropical Africa.

The genus Tamarindus is a ‘monotypic taxon’, having only a single species. 

The name derives from Arabic: تمر هندي‎, romanized tamar hindi, "Indian date". Several early medieval herbalists and physicians wrote tamar indi, medieval Latin use was tamarindus, and Marco Polo wrote of tamarandi.

The tamarind tree produces edible, pod-like fruit which is used extensively in cuisines around the world. Other uses include traditional medicine. Because of the tamarind's many uses, cultivation has spread around the world in tropical and subtropical zones.  Today, India is the largest producer of tamarind. The consumption of tamarind is widespread due to its central role in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, South East Asia and America, particularly in Mexico.



Tamarindus indica is probably indigenous to tropical Africa, but has been cultivated for so long on the Indian subcontinent that it is sometimes also reported to be indigenous there. It grows wild in Africa in locales as diverse as Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania. In Arabia, it is found growing wild in Oman, especially Dhofar, where it grows on the sea-facing slopes of mountains.

The tamarind has also long been naturalized in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands. Thailand has the largest plantations of the ASEAN nations, followed by Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. It is cultivated all over India, especially in the South Indian states of Maharashtra Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

In the 16th century, it was heavily introduced to Mexico, and to a lesser degree to South America, by Spanish and Portuguese colonists, to the degree that it became a staple ingredient in the region's cuisine.  Commercial plantations throughout tropical Latin America include Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.


In the United States, it is a large-scale crop introduced for commercial use, second in net production quantity to India, in the mainly Southern states due to tropical and semitropical climes, notably South Florida, and as a shade and fruit tree, along roadsides and in dooryards and parks.

 In effect, it is widely distributed throughout the tropical belt, from Africa to South Asia, Northern Australia, and throughout Oceania, Southeast Asia, Taiwan and China.


The tamarind is a long-lived, medium-growth, bushy tree, which attains a maximum crown height of 12 to 18 metres (39 to 59 ft). The crown has an irregular, vase-shaped outline of dense foliage. The tree grows well in full sun in clay, loam, sandy, and acidic soil types, with a high resistance to drought and aerosol salt (wind-borne salt as found in coastal areas).  As a tropical species, it is frost sensitive.

The evergreen leaves are alternately arranged and pinnately compound. The leaflets are bright green, elliptical ovular, pinnately veined, and less than 5 cm (2.0 in) in length. The branches droop from a single, central trunk as the tree matures and is often pruned in agriculture to optimize tree density and ease of fruit harvest. At night, the leaflets close up.


The tamarind does flower, though inconspicuously, with red and yellow elongated flowers. Flowers are 2.5 cm wide (one inch), five-petalled, borne in small racemes, and yellow with orange or red streaks. Buds are pink as the four sepals are pink and are lost when the flower blooms.[citation needed]

The fruit is an indehiscent legume, sometimes called a pod, 12 to 15 cm (4.7 to 5.9 in) in length, with a hard, brown shell.

The fruit has a fleshy, juicy, acidulous pulp. It is mature when the flesh is coloured brown or reddish-brown. The tamarinds of Asia have longer pods containing six to 12 seeds, whereas African and West Indian varieties have short pods containing one to six seeds. The seeds are somewhat flattened, and glossy brown.

It is harvested by pulling the pod from its stalk. A mature tree may be capable of producing up to 175 kg (386 lb) of fruit per year.


Although some countries use the hard green sour pulp of young fruit in savoury dishes, and pickles, it is generally the ripe fruit that is used in most countries.  It has a multiplicity of uses in not just savoury dishes but in desserts, sweets, jam and sweetened drinks.  It is a very important ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.  In most parts of India, tamarind extract is used to flavour food and across the Middle East, from the Levant to Iran, tamarind is used in savoury dishes, notably meat-based stews, and often combined with dried fruits to achieve a sweet-sour tang. 

There are numerous very good recipes for tamarind in the books by Indian cookery writers such as Madhur Jaffrey, so we instead decided it might be more fun to have some very novel recipes that might extend the ideas people have on how it can be used.

A very good marinade, for example, can be made from tamarind paste, soy sauce, sunflower oil, and runny honey.  It can be used to marinate steaks and fish like tuna. 

Simon Rimmer’s Scouse eggs

6 free-range eggs

750g/1lb 10oz tofu

275g/9¾oz breadcrumbs

250g/9oz [vegetarian] black pudding, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh mint

pinch ground cinnamon

4 lemons, juice and zest


For the coating

100g/3½oz breadcrumbs

100g/3½oz polenta

vegetable oil, for deep-frying


For the pickle

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 red onions, sliced

2 red chillies, chopped

200ml/7fl oz white wine vinegar

200g/7oz caster sugar

1 tbsp tamarind paste

1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, cut into small florets

2 tsp cornflour mixed with a little water to make a paste

Cook four of the eggs in boiling water for six minutes, then refresh in a bowl of iced water. Once cool, peel and set aside.

Meanwhile, blend the tofu and breadcrumbs in a food processor, then add the remaining two eggs, the black pudding, garlic, herbs, cinnamon, lemon juice and zest, and blend together until smooth.

Carefully mould the mixture around each of the boiled eggs, making sure there are no gaps.

For the coating, mix the breadcrumbs and polenta together in a bowl until well combined. Dip each Scouse egg in the breadcrumb mixture until completely covered.

Half-fill a deep, heavy-based pan with vegetable oil and heat until a breadcrumb dropped in sizzles and turns golden-brown in 30 seconds. (CAUTION: Hot oil can be dangerous. Do not leave unattended.)

Deep-fry the Scouse eggs for 5-6 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown. Carefully remove the eggs from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, for the pickle, heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 5-6 minutes, or until softened. Add the chilli and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

Heat the vinegar, sugar and tamarind paste in a saucepan until boiling. Blanch the cauliflower florets in the vinegar mixture for 2-3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.

Stir the cornflour mixture into the vinegar mixture and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the cooked onion and cauliflower, then set aside to cool.

The Hairy Bikers’ Bobotie

Bobotie is a kind of fruity, herby meatloaf with a curried custard topping, of Cape Malay origin. Sounds odd but tastes great! All southern Africans have their own recipe for this; the Hairy Bikers’ is a classical recipe. The method is relatively simple in that you mix all the meat ingredients together with your hands until they are well mixed then put them in a meat loaf tin deep enough to eventually take the topping.  Depending on your oven it may take about 45 mins to cook.  Meanwhile make the topping.  After 45 mins pour the topping over the meat loaf and cook until the topping is risen, bubbly and golden.  Serve with rice and plain greens [eg kale, broccoli beans]

For the meat


a thumbnail-sized piece of tamarind pod

285ml/½ pint good-quality red wine

3kg/6½lb best beef mince (for best results, get good rump steak and mince it yourself)

250g/9oz blanched almonds

24 black peppercorns, crushed

a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 hot chillies, finely chopped

a few sprigs of marjoram, leaves only

20 coriander seeds, crushed

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

one lemon, grated zest only

handful of sultanas

285ml/½ pint double cream

125gm/4oz unsalted butter, softened

salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 bay leaves

cumin seeds, for sprinkling

butter, for greasing


For the custard topping


565ml/1 pint milk

10 eggs, whisked

2 tbsp medium curry powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper




James Martin’s Tamarind duck with chargrilled mango salad

The duck is marinated in the tamarind, honey and spice mixture, then roasted and served with the salad

For the duck


1.8kg/4lb duck, spatchcocked (backbone removed, duck flattened out)

2 tbsp tamarind paste

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground turmeric


For the salad


4 pak choi, quartered [or spinach]

2 mangoes, peeled, stone removed, cut into thick slices

150g/5oz beansprouts

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp tamarind paste

½ tsp fresh ginger, peeled, grated

4 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted, to serve



The Best of Rose Elliot: The Ultimate Vegetarian Collection – Banana or Plaintain curry

This gentle, sweet curry is so quick to make. Use 2-3 plantains instead of the 4 bananas if you prefer, but cook them a bit longer.

300g basmati rice
500g new potatoes, halved
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 green peppers, deseeded and chopped
2 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp root ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves, crushed
5g curry leaves
4 large under-ripe bananas, sliced
300ml water
75g creamed coconut, cut into pieces
4 tsp fresh tamarind, sieved and deseeded
125g roasted cashew nuts
Salt and black pepper

1 Start by cooking the rice. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the rice, bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is just tender. Drain, rinse with boiling water, drain again well, then return to the saucepan and keep warm over a gentle heat until required.
2 To make the curry, put the potatoes into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow them to simmer for 10‑15 minutes, until just tender, then drain.

3 Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan with a lid, add the chopped onion and peppers, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.

4 Add the mustard seeds, stirring over the heat for a minute or two until they start to pop, then stir in the turmeric, ginger, garlic and curry leaves and cook for a minute or two longer.

5 Stir in the drained potatoes and the bananas, then add the water, creamed coconut and tamarind. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to cook gently for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce is thick and the flavours blended. Season with salt and pepper.

6 Quickly add the cashews to the rice and fork through, then serve the rice and curry together on warmed plates.


References and further reading

Vegetable recipes of India - Tamarind Date Chutney Recipe, Sweet Tamarind Chutney Recipe for Chaat


Related observations