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Tamarind

Tamarindus indica

Herbs gallery - Tamarind



Common names

  • Indian Tree
  • Tamarind

The tamarind is a fine-looking large tree with spreading branches that can grow up to a height of 25 meters (82 feet) and often survive for as many as 200 years. As the tree belongs to a tropical species, it is very sensitive to frost. The tamarind tree stays evergreen throughout the year and creates a really charismatic site. The trunk is broad, straight with ash-grey bark. The bark of the tree is firm and scabrous and does not split into valves. There are three fibres inside the bark - one down, on the upper concave margin, the other two at equal distances from the convex edge. The tamarind timber consists of hard, dark red heartwood and softer, yellowish sapwood. The leaves are pinnate with reverse leaflets that produce a billowing effect in the wind. Each leaf has 10 to 40 leaflets that always occur in pairs and have a pale green hue and small fine bristles. These leaflets close after sunset and when the weather conditions are cold and damp.

The tamarind tree bears flowers in racemes and are mainly yellowish in color. Precisely speaking, the flowers of the tamarind tree are aromatic with yellow veins, red and purple filaments occurring in terminal and lateral racemes. The flowers have three green stamens and one long pistil that curve from the centre. The buds are typically enclosed in two sheaths and have a crimson color. All these aspects make an appealing distinction on the flower sprays. The fruits are akin to legume, oblong shaped, pendulous, almost linear, arced and curved to some extent. They are compressed enclosing a soft acid pulp and several hard-coated seeds. Each tamarind legume generally encloses six to 12 seeds that are swathed with a glossy even brown casing and they are placed into the convex side of the pericarp. The pods significantly vary in size and shape on the same tree. They are green in color, but a grayish brown, felt-like film over the green makes them appear brownish. They are off-white and brittle when mature.

Basically there are three types of tamarinds - the East Indian, the West Indian and a third variety. While the East Indian variety of tamarind has long pods enclosing six to 12 seeds, the West Indian type of this species have comparatively shorter pods each having about four seeds. The pods of the third variety of tamarind enclose an exquisite rose color pulp. The West Indian variety of tamarinds are generally exported in a syrup form after removing the outer shell of the fruits, while the East Indian type is exported in a solid black mass of legumes along with their shells. The third type of tamarind is generally conserved in a syrup form.

Parts used

Fruit pulp, leaves.

Uses

The tamarind fruit pulp is edible as well as popular. The hard green pulp of a young fruit is so sour and acidic that it cannot be consumed directly. However, it is regularly used as a component of flavorsome dishes. The ripened fruit is edible, as it becomes less sour and to some extent sweeter, but is still very acidic. It is used in desserts as a jam, blended into juices or sweetened drinks or as a snack. It is also consumed as a natural laxative. In fact, the fruits possess an assortment of edible as well as remedial properties and used for various purposes.

The tamarind fruits or the pulp enclosed in them are strong disinfectants (cathartic), bitter (astringent), antiseptic and a refrigerant agent as well as serve to dispel or reduce fever (febrifuge). Interestingly, tamarinds do not contain any element that can be attributed for their laxative feature. An infusion prepared with the tamarind pulp forms an excellent drink to treat fevers. In addition, the pulp of the tamarind forms a good food while people are recuperating from any illness, as they possess laxative properties to some extent and help in regulating the bowl movements. In India, the tamarind is also used as an astringent to treat bowel complaints. The pulp of the fruit is generally believed to abate the actions of sticky cathartics, but is often recommended by herbal medicine practitioners with them as a carrier for jalap and other similar substances. Tamarind is also effectual in treating bile disorders. One may use three drachms up to two ounces of tamarind pulp to make it reasonably cathartic or as required for treating the specific case.

The tamarind leaves are occasionally used in sub-acid infusions, while a decoction prepared with the leaves is believed to eliminate worms in children. In addition, the decoction is also effectual in treating jaundice and useful as an external wash for tender eyes and ulcers. In the West Indies, people prepare a punch with the fruit and blend it with a decoction prepared with borage to alleviate the burning sensation during urination. Tamarind whey can be prepared by stewing one ounce of the fruit pulp in one pint of milk and filtering the liquid. This serves as a cool laxative drink. Interestingly, the tamarind fruit has also been found to be useful in healing some types of sore throat conditions. In Mauritius, the Creoles blend salt with the tamarind pulp and use it as an ointment to treat rheumatism. In addition, they also prepare a decoction with the bark of the tamarind tree to treat asthma. The Bengalis, on the other hand, use the tamarind pulp to cure dysentery. Moreover, when food is scarce, they also use tamarind as a food by boiling the fruit pods in water or grinding them after removing the dark brown outer shell.

The inhabitants of India are of the opinion that the area around tamarind trees becomes unpleasant or harmful and, hence, it is hazardous to sleep under these trees because of the acid they breathe out during the humidity of the night. It is generally believed that no other plant can survive in the shade of a tamarind tree. The timber of the tamarind tree is extremely firm as well as durable and is a valuable building material. The tamarind wood has a red hue. Owing to its density and durability, tamarind heartwood can also be used in making furniture and wood flooring. In addition, the wood also provides good quality charcoal for gunpowder, while an infusion prepared with the leaves of tree provide a yellow dye used to give color to silk. In Asian nations, the pulp is used to clean brass shrine furniture, removing dulling and the greenish patina that forms on them. The stalks of the tamarind seeds have been used for road surfacing in many places. Recently, scientists have discovered that the seeds could make a cheap, but and effectual substitute for cereal starch that is used for making the cotton yarn in proper size, for jute fabrics and for woolens. It is important to mention that tamarind is an important ingredient in Indian culinary, especially in curries and chutneys. Tamarind also makes an excellent sauce for cooking duck, geese and water fowl, while in the western region of India, people use tamarind to prepare fish pickles. In addition, fish cooked with tamarind is considered by many to be a fantastic dish.

Tamarind trees are cultivated both as an ornamental shade and street trees as well as for their edible pods. Almost all the year round, the tamarind trees stand tall with spreading branches and a canopy of bulging foliage creating a beautiful sight. The trees of this species have as much high regard as an avenue, park or garden tree as they bear very useful fruits and have very valuable timber. On the other hand, the tamarind pods form a fodder for the livestock, while the pulp of the fruit is utilized to prepare beverages and also used in curries, sauces and chutneys. In Latin America, people prepare a soft drink called refresco de tamarindo, while people in Jamaica prepare a beverage called tamarinade with the pulp. Even in the Middle East, the tamarind pulp forms the base of a very popular soft drink.

Indian and Southeast Asian culinary has widespread use of tamarind, while it forms an important ingredient of Worcestershire sauce. In India, people use the juice of the tamarind pulp to prepare fish pickles. In addition, the fruit has numerous remedial benefits and is believed to augment digestion, allay gas, and alleviate tender throats as well as works as a minor laxative. In the Philippines, the leaves of the tree have been traditionally used in herbal tea for reducing malaria fever. In Ayurvedic medicine, tamarind is used to treat gastric and/ or digestion problems as well as in cardio-protective activity.

In addition, the tamarind tree is an attractive and fine textured tree that provides excellent shade in the vast countryside. Very often the trees are planted in public parks as well as along the roads in cities in the tropical climatic regions. The tamarind fruit pulp or its extracts are consumed in combination with senna leaf powder for its laxative properties. Ripened tamarind fruits have a very luscious sweet and sour taste and are extensively used as a stimulant to augment appetite as well as digestion. People have been traditionally using tamarind for several other purposes, for instance as remedies for liver and bile disorders. In India, people prepare a drink with the tamarind fruit to cure feverish conditions. Tamarind is widely used by the food industry which uses the fruit in preparing beverages, chutneys as well as an important component of Worcester sauce.

Culinary uses

The tamarind pulp is not only edible, but also very popular among all sections of people everywhere. It is true that the solid green pulp of unripe tamarind fruits is very bitter as well as acidic that it cannot be consumed directly. However, it is regularly used to flavor spicy dishes. On the other hand, the ripened tamarind fruit or pulp is edible and tasty. As the pods mature, they become less bitter and sweet to some extent. Nevertheless, they remain extremely acidic. The pulp of the ripened tamarind fruits are extensively used in preparation of jams, combined with different juices or sweetened beverages or used in an assortment of snacks. Some people also consume the ripened tamarind pulp directly for its laxative properties.

In Thailand, people cultivate a special variety of sweet tamarind that has little or no bitterness. This variety is considered to be the best type of tamarind and is cultivated specially to be consumed as a fresh fruit. In addition, this variety of tamarind is also conserved by adding sugar and chilli to be consumed as a spicy candy. This variety of tamarind usually has a reddish pulp and is used in Asian as well as Latin American cuisines. In north India, this forms an important element of the ‘imli chutney - a spicy ketchup, while in Andhra Pradesh in India, it is used to prepare ‘pulusu' - a popular sauce. In addition, this special variety of tamarind from Thailand is also used in the preparation of Worcestershire sauce, HP sauce and ‘pickapeppa' sauce prepared by the Jamaicans in the Caribbean.

People in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in India widely use tamarind in their cookery, especially in preparing ‘rasam', ‘sambhar', ‘vatha kuzhambu' and ‘puliyogare' - an exclusively and easily prepared rice dish with tamarind. In addition, tamarind is extensively used as an important flavoring agent of different types of ‘chutneys' in different parts of India. Besides tamarind, the other ingredients included in sauce preparation comprise sugar and spices. These are added with a view to provide a bitter-sweet flavor to the sauce. 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.

It is interesting to note that the name ‘tamarind' has been derived from the Persian word ‘Tamar-e-Hind' denoting the ‘Indian date'. The tamarind tree belongs to the ‘Leguminosae' family and ‘Caesalpinieae' sub-family. The Indian variety of the tamarind tree is known as ‘Tamarindus India' to scientists across the world. The tree is also known as Tamarinier. The tamarind tree is called by different names in different parts of India. While the Hindi-speaking people call it ‘Tamrulhindi', ‘Ambili' and ‘Imli'. In Bengali, the tree is known as ‘Tinti', ‘Nuli' and ‘Tentul'.

The fruit of the tamarind tree, especially the pulp, is used to prepare jams and syrups. In Egypt, people prepare an acidic chilled soft drink with tamarind and it is very popular during the summers. In Madagascar, the fruits as well as the leaves of the tamarind tree are a favorite of the Ring-tailed lemurs and they provide almost 50 per cent of these animals' food supply during the year and whenever available.

In Mexico, tamarind is available in an assortment of snacks. People in this part of the world dry the tamarind fruit with salt or preserve it as candies - ‘pulparindo' and ‘chamoy' are among the two popular snacks prepared with tamarind here. In addition, people in Mexico generally drink tamarind as a cold agua fresco beverage or consume it in iced fruit bars and raspados. Mexicans who have immigrated to the United States have preserved their habits of taking tamarind in their traditional forms, such as the ‘agua de tamarindo' and a number of other delicacies. In addition, the Mexican traditional snacks prepared with the tamarind fruit are now available with specialty food stores all over the world either in the pod variety or as a mash or in the concentrate form.

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 fruit is especially popular in the Philippines and it is extensively used in food items, such as the sinigang soup. In addition, they also prepare candies with tamarind. The leaves of the tamarind tree are also used in the preparation of sinampalukan soup.

People in northern Nigeria used tamarind with millet powder to prepare ‘kunun tsamiya', a customary Pap mostly used as breakfast, and usually eaten with bean cake. While in Burma, young leaves and flower buds of the tamarind tree are consumed as a vegetable. A salad dish containing leaves of tamarind, boiled beans, and squeezed peanuts topped with crunchy fried onions is very admired in the rural areas of Burma.

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.

Habitat and cultivation

The tamarind tree is considered to be one of the earliest cultivated plants of unknown or obscure taxonomic origin. Many are of the opinion that the tamarind tree is native to tropical Africa from where the plant spread to other temperate regions of the globe. The tamarind tree is primarily cultivated for its fruit pulp and also its value as an ornamental tree. While the pulp is edible and has numerous remedial properties, the tree itself is magnificent and is grown in public parks, vast landscapes as well as along the avenues for adorning these locales.

As discussed earlier, the tamarind tree is indigenous to Africa and grows naturally all over the African nation Sudan. The species was introduced in India so long back, that the tamarind is also considered to be native to India too. In India there are extensive tamarind orchards producing 275,500 tons (250,000 MT) annually. The tamarind tree is widely cultivated in all regions of the world having tropical climatic conditions. The plant was first introduced in America sometime during the 16th century and presently it is extensively cultivated all over Mexico. In addition, the tree has long been naturalized in the East Indies as well as the islands of the Pacific. Incidentally, one of the first tamarind trees in Hawaii was planted way back in 1797. Apart from Mexico, in the tropical regions of America, the tamarind was introduced in Bermuda, the Bahamas and the West Indies. In all tropical and near-tropical areas, including South Florida, it is grown as a shade and fruit tree, along roadsides and in dooryards and parks. There are large commercial plantings in Mexico, Belize and some other Central American countries and in northern Brazil.

The tamarind tree adapts itself to any semi-arid condition in the tropical climatic regions. However, it has been found that this species also thrives well in several moist tropical areas of the world where the seasonal rainfall is reasonably high. While the young tamarind trees are quite vulnerable to frost, the matured trees are able to endure brief periods of low temperatures such as 28° F without sustaining any severe harm. When the fruits of the tamarind tree are in the developmental stage, it is important to have a dry or arid weather.

In fact, the tamarind tree is so large that it is not possible to grow the plant in a container for any length of time. Eventually, the tamarind plant develops into a reasonably large tree and this needs to be borne in mind while planting the tree in any outdoor location. The tamarind tree should always be planted in an open space receiving full sunlight to enable it to grow to its full size. This tree can withstand strong winds as its branches are strong as well as flexible. When fully grown, the tamarind tree appears magnificent with a canopy of foliage and provides light shade around the place.

Although the tamarind trees thrive well in deep and well drained soils that are somewhat acidic in nature, they are able to adapt to a wide variety of soils and tolerate different conditions. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the trees of this species will not grow well in cold and moist soils. The tamarind trees are capable of tolerating salt sprays and, hence, can be planted reasonably close to the sea shores.

The tamarind trees grow best in the semi-arid conditions in the tropical climatic region and are also able to endure drought conditions pretty well. The young tamarind trees require sufficient moisture in the soil till they become well established, but when the trees are mature enough they can survive fairly well even without any additional irrigation. It is important to avoid watering the trees in excess that may result in the soil becoming soggy.

Unlike may other trees, the tamarind trees do not require too much of nutrients to grow. Generally, the young trees of this species need to be fertilized once in every two to three months with a 6-6-3 NPK or some comparable analysis nourishment. Initially, apply one-fourth pound of the fertilizer and then increase the amount to approximately half pound. Subsequently, it is sufficient if the young tamarind trees are given half pound of fertilizer three to four times a year. Mature tamarind trees that have already begun flowers and fruits may be given 8-3-9 NPK or any comparable analysis at the rate of about half ounce every application each year of the age of the tree. Trees growing in alkaline soils may require micro-elements, such as iron, as a nourishment to boost growth.

The young tamarind trees are often trimmed to enable three to five properly spaced branches to develop into the central scaffold arrangement of the tree. Following this, pruning is only required to remove the damaged or dead branches or wood with a view to maintain the trees properly.

Tamarind trees are propagated from their seeds that usually germinate within a week of sowing. If the tamarind seeds are preserved in a dry condition, they are able to retain their feasibility for many months and occasionally for a number of years. For best results, plant the tamarind seeds in half an inch deep in containers filled with UC soilless type of potting medium. It is important to select the seeds for propagation from trees yielding high quality and good quantity of fruits. Despite all such care, the seedlings are likely to differ in quality and have a sluggish growth. In order to propagate desirable selections of the tamarind, you may require veneer grafting, shield grafting as well as air layering. Trees propagated in this manner generally bear fruits very soon, within three to four years, if the optimum growing conditions are made available to them. Otherwise, the seedlings take anything between six to eight years to develop into mature trees and bear fruits. Contrary to this, trees that are propagated by means of vegetative methods usually bear fruits in half the time required by the trees grown from seeds.

Once the seedlings develop to a reasonable size, it is important to plant them in sufficiently large holes that are able to accommodate the root system properly. In addition, the young trees need to be planted at a higher altitude than the existing ground level to enable the soil to settle down to the normal level subsequently and construct a water basin around each tree to ensure that the young trees receive sufficient moisture. While planting the young trees in commercial orchards, care should be taken to leave a space of 20 feet to 25 feet between two trees. This is necessary to give the trees adequate space to grow to their normal size when mature. It may be mentioned here that in southern California, solitary trees seldom exceed 15 feet in diameter.

Pests and diseases
Tamarinds grown in California are usually free from any pest invasion or disease. However, at times, ants cause black and olive flakes on the pods. Contrary to the conditions in California, a host of pests attack the tamarind trees as well as the fruits. Most of these pests include mealy bugs, aphids, caterpillars, thrips, white flies and even an assortment of scales. In addition, a variety of weevils and borers may also swarm the ripened tamarind pods or the stored fruits.

Harvest
The tamarind fruits generally mature during the period between spring and early part of the summer. However, these ripened tamarind fruits are left on the trees for another six months or so with a view to lessen the moisture content of the fruits to around 20 per cent or even less. The fruits that require immediate processing are harvested by pulling the pods away from the stalks. Normally, each healthy mature tamarind tree is capable of yielding around 350 pounds of fruit every year. In humid climatic conditions, the ripened tamarind fruits are easily attacked by beetles and fungi and, hence, mature fruits should be harvested and preserved under refrigeration.

Although many people consume the pulp of the ripened tamarind fruits fresh, in the tropical regions of America people prepare a cooling beverage by adding sugar and water to the ripened pulps. In addition, the pulp of the ripened tamarind fruit is also used to add essence to chutneys and preserves, meat sauces as well as to prepare fish pickles. You can also prepare candies with the tamarind pulp by blending it with sugar and molding the paste into shapes you desire.

Constituents

The chemical composition of the tamarind pulp comprises rich content of pectin, monosaccharides and organic acids, primarily potassium hydrogen tartrate. In addition, other organic acids, such as free acids, including tartaric acid, citric acid and malic acid are also present in the tamarind fruit pulp. Acids comprise almost 12 per cent to 15 per cent of the tamarind pulp. Tamarind has an exclusive fragrance and this is attributed to the presence of pyrazinen and thiazols as well as an essential oil in the pulp. The essential oil found in the tamarind fruit pulp is in low concentration and contains monoterpenoids and aromatic cinnamates.

Usual dosage

Tamarind pulp is said to be an effective remedy for constipation. Hence, dehydrated pulp of the tamarind fruits are blended with commercially available constipation medications or the pulp is consumed fresh to treat this condition.

Comments

From J Rao - Jul-14-2014
Tamarind is used not just in Tamilnadu and Andhra but in Karnataka as well. In fact the origin of puliogare was in Karnataka (puli and ogare). Subsequently adopted by melukote Iyengars near Bangalore and propagated across the Iyengar communities in Tamilnadu and Andhra. Shunned by Shivites and Advaitins especially in Kerala.
From Shiroole Nisha - Aug-05-2012
I've been eating tamarind since I was a girl. We had the most beautiful, huge tree in our yard. It was inviting, cool and host many friends over the years. Of course its attraction was the ripe fruits.
At school age, it is best eaten with salt and pepper as we walked to school.
From reading this article, as you might know Guyana, South America was the home for slaves, and indentured servants, colonized by the British. I believe slaves from Africa or could be indentured from India brought seeds to their new land.
Tamarind flourishes in Guyana too.
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