Tamarind scientifically known as Tamarindus indica derives from the Persian word Tamar e hind means ‘Indian date’ is a tree in the Fabaceae family. The genus Tamarindus is having an single species only. Tamarind tree is a very popular Indian tree & a very charming tree.
It is a member of the leguminosae family and Caesalpinieae sub family. There are different names to Tamarind called in different regional languages for instance imli in Hindi, Puli in both Tamil and Malayalam, Chintapandu in Telugu and nuli or tinti in Bengali.
Native to tropical Africa the tamarind grows wild throughout the Sudan. Very long ago it was introduced into India and has often been reported as indigenous there also. It is extensively cultivated in tropical areas of the world. During the 16th century it was introduced to America and today is widely grown in Mexico. In 1797 one of the first tamarind trees was planted in Hawaii. Normally the size of the tamarind tree is very large and it can reach a great age of around 200 years.
The flowers of the tamarind tree are very ordinary with nice spreading branches and a canopy of bulging flora. The tree is much admired as an avenue, park or garden tree as it has very useful fruits and the timber of this tree is highly prized. It has a short but strong trunk to bear the weight of its wide and extensive top.
The almost black bark is thick and some longitudinal and horizontal cracks cover it well. The tree can achieve the height of 27 metres. In the months of May and June, there appear some tiny, scented flowers in the tree in loose, lethal and sidewise sprays. They remain almost unremarkable amongst the mass of the plants.
The pods are quite numerous. They significantly vary in size and shape on the same tree. Their appearance is of brown colour. At this stage they are called as Chintakaaya in Telugu. Chintakaaya pachadi is a very popular from the Andhra cuisine. After their maturity they turn off-white and brittle. A stringy pulp contains the seeds from one to ten and the pod is more or less slimmed between these seeds. The pulp is brown and acidic in some of the varieties of Tamarind and in others it is sweet but the one with reddish pulp is considered to be the best.
The new and fresh leaves appear in the first months of the year and they appear even in September in some special occasions. The conversion of the tree is strange. The leaves of the tamarind tree are compound in its formation and usually divided into 10 to 12 pairs of leaflets. They are quite small and become even smaller at the end of the year. They are square, smooth and they grow diagonally. The fruit also called as the pod is about 12 to 15 cm in length with a hard brown shell. The fruit has fleshy, juicy and acidulous pulp.
When matured it is colored brown or reddish brown. The tamarinds grown in Asia have longer pods containing about 6 to 12 seeds whereas in Africa and West Indies the varieties are short pods containing only about 1 to 6 seeds. The seeds too are somewhat flattened and glossy brown.
A tamarind is excellent when it is sweet and sour in taste and high in acid, sugar, vitamin B and interestingly for a fruit, calcium. The fruit of tamarind tree has numerous usages. The pulp is used as an important ingredient in the curries. There are some commercial uses too. It is preserved and also sold in the markets.
It is also used as a laxative in medicine. People make powder from grinding the seeds and boil it to paste with gum and make strong cement. A substitute for wheat or other flour can also be obtained from them that are used by the people. The stalks of the seeds have been employed for road surfacing as well.
The scientists also discovered that the seeds could make a cheap but efficient substitute for cereal starch that is used for making the cotton yarn in proper size, for jute fabrics and for woolens. Further, the leaves and flowers of the tree are also quite useful. An infusion from the leaves can make a fine yellow dye that is used to give a green colour to silks. Though hard and very difficult to work on, the timber of the tree is of high value. People widely use this wood for making wheels, mallets, furniture, oil and sugar mills, etc.
Tamarind is harvested by pulling the pod from its stalk. A mature tree may be capable of producing up to 175 kg (350 lb) of fruit per year. Globally, it is most abundant in South Asia, where it is widely distributed and has a long history of human cultivation.
Many South Asian regional languages have their own unique name for the tamarind fruit. It is called the tetul in Bangla; tintidi in Sanskrit, tentuli in Oriya, Imli in Hindi, amli in Gujarati, chinch in Marathi and Konkani, hunase in Kannada, chintachettu (tamaraind tree) and chintapandu (tamarind fruit) in Telugu and vaalanpuli in Malayalam. It is known as siyambala in Sinhala language in Sri Lanka. There are tamarind that taste sweet and sour but normally the taste of tamarind is very sour especially its pulp.
The ripe fruit is a little less bitter, thus when sweetened can be used in a very well known sweet drink, drank by the Egyptians from a long time ago. Asians use the pulp of the fruit as a spice in many of their dishes. Tamarind is an important ingredient in Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce.
The Tamarind pulp concentrate is popular as a flavoring in East Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Tamarind is extensively used in Indian cookery and is an important ingredient in curries and chutneys, and makes delicious sauce for fish, meat products and water fowl, and in Western India is used for pickling fish. In Andhra tamarind is widely used in making the very popular dish called the Chapala pulusu (fish cooked in tamarind sauce) and pappu charu (lentil stew) being considered a great delicacy.
Tamarind pulp adds a distinct sour taste to the hot and spicy preparations and is normally used as the substitute of tomatoes. Before using in cooking, the dry tamarind pulp is soaked in water and the juice is then added to the preparation. The South Indian delicacies that use tamarind are Pulihora rice, Sambhar (spicy lentil soup with plenty of vegetables), Rasam and various kinds of pickles and chutneys. Tamarind is also used as a marinade and a natural preservative.
Tamarind is available in a pulp form and is used in preparing refreshments and cool drinks. The ripe tamarind is used in desserts, sweet sauces and other sweet dishes. Some people also consume the ripened tamarind pulp directly for its laxative properties. In north India, this forms an important element of the ‘imli chutney - a spicy ketchup. Even the young and unripe tamarind pods and the flowers of the tree are used in preparing pickles and used as a side dish in south India.
In southern parts of Kerala, mostly along the coastal belt, it is added to fish curry, masalas and ground coconut for flavoring. People in Thailand, prepare a delicious dish called ‘Pad Thai’ with tamarind and this is generally well accepted even by the Americans and Europeans. They add tamarind to this cuisine for the fruit’s bitter-sweet flavor. In addition, they add lime juice to the dish to add some sourness and a fish sauce to impart saltiness to ‘Pad Thai’.
In Central Thailand, people prepare a sweet-and-sour sauce with tamarind and use it with deep-fried fish for extra zing. This is a very common and popular preparation in this part of the world. People in Malaysia and Singapore use tamarind to add a sweet-and-sour flavor to the gravy of a fish preparation known as ‘asam fish’.
The tamarind tree is considered to be a traditional food plant in the African continent. For the Africans, this tree has a variety of uses - a food that has the potential to augment nutrition, enhance food security, promote rural development and also endorse sustainable land care.
Tamarind is used as in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine for gastric and/or digestion problems, and in cardioprotective activity. Based on human study, tamarind intake may delay the progression of fluorosis by enhancing excretion of fluoride. However, additional research is needed to confirm these results.
Excess consumption has been noted as a traditional laxative. Other medicinal uses include: Anthelminthic (expels worms), antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, asthma, astringent, bacterial skin infections (erysipelas), boils, chest pain, cholesterol metabolism disorders, colds, colic, conjunctivitis (pink eye), constipation (chronic or acute), diabetes, diarrhea (chronic), dry eyes, dysentery (severe diarrhea), eye inflammation, fever, food preservative, food uses (coloring), gallbladder disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, gingivitis, hemorrhoids, indigestion, insecticide, jaundice, keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), leprosy, liver disorders, nausea and vomiting (pregnancy-related), paralysis, poisoning (Datura plant), rash, rheumatism, saliva production, skin disinfectant/sterilization, sore throat, sores, sprains, sunscreen, sunstroke, swelling (joints), urinary stones, wound healing (corneal epithelium).
In temples, especially in Buddhist Asian countries and many households in India, the fruit pulp is used to polish brass shrine furniture, brass lamps, removing dulling and the greenish patina that forms. The wood is a bold red color. Due to its density and durability, tamarind heartwood can be used in making furniture and wood flooring. Tamarind trees are very common throughout Asia and the tropical world as both an ornamental, garden and cash crop.
The tamarind has recently become popular in bonsai culture, frequently used in Asian countries such as Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines. The seeds are sometimes used by children in traditional board games such as Chinese checkers (China), Dhakon (Java), and others.
Tamarind juice is a mild laxative, is used to treat bile disorders, lowers cholesterol, and promotes a healthy heart. Tamarind is use as a gargle for sore throats, and as a drink to bring relief from sunstroke. It is used as a diuretic remedy for bilious disorders, jaundice and catarrh. It is a good source of antioxidants that fight against cancer. Tamarind helps the body digest food. Tamarind has a variety of uses. The unripe fruit is acid in taste, whereas the pulp of the ripe fruit is both sweet and acid and is cooling, carminative, digestive and laxative.
It is anti-bilious and anti-scorbutic. In summer elixir type syrup is prepared from it, which is very cooling and anti-bilious. Sometimes it is given to patients suffering from fever, sunstroke and inflammatory conditions. Tamarind is efficacious in preventing or curing scurvy. In short, tamarind which is widely used in cooking has numerous other and medicinal applications. The nutritional values per 100 gms of tamarind are: Vitamin A: 30 I.U. Vitamin B: Thiamine .34 mg.; Riboflavin: .14 mg.; Niacin: 1.2 mg.; Vitamin C: 2 mg. Calcium: 74 mg. Iron: 2.8 mg. Phosphorus: 113 mg. Fat: .6 gm. Carbohydrates: 62.5 gm. Protein: 2.8 gm. Calories: 239