A Primer on Tamarind

Tamarind is the edible fruit of the Tamarindus indica tree. While it’s native to the tropical regions of Africa, the pulp has been used in cuisines across the world.

The young fruit is sour, but once ripe, it has a sweet taste that’s used to flavor drinks, jams, ice cream, and an array of snacks. The bark of the tree can be used for furniture and wood flooring. The tree is also popular in the cultivating art of bonsai.

Raw tamarind is high in several B vitamins, as well as iron, magnesium, and potassium — all vital to human health. However, despite widespread claims that it is a miracle cure for ailments ranging from the common cold to cancer, the science isn’t solid.

Traditional uses

In certain African cultures, tamarind fruit has been used in wet pulp form to cool the foreheads of people with fevers. It also has been used as a mild laxative for centuries.

For people in India and China — where high fluoride levels are found in the water —consumption of tamarind has been shown to help flush the body of excess fluoride. Too much fluoride in the body can cause skeletal fluorosis, a painful condition that can damage bones and joints.

Modern medicine

There is some evidence to suggest that tamarind bark might have some untapped health potential. One study in rats found that tamarind bark extract has a blood glucose lowering effect, which may make it useful for blood glucose management in people with diabetes. The researchers also found that the extract has antioxidant capabilities that helped prevent kidney damage in cases of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

Some claim that tamarind extracts can be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, but research on animals — specifically hamsters and chickens — has yet to prove any direct relationship.

If your doctor has told you that you need to monitor your cholesterol level, ask if tamarind could help.

In the kitchen

While it may not have any solidly proven medicinal uses, it can be a tasty inclusion if you’re looking to eat healthy.

Tamarind is ubiquitous in India and parts of Africa, where the ripe fruit is used as a food flavoring. Unripe fruit is sometimes turned into pulp and used for pickling. In other parts of the globe, it’s sold in various forms including sweet snacks, drinks, jams, soups, candies, and more. In Mexico, tamarind is an ingredient in the slow-cooked mole. In the United States, it’s found in Worcestershire sauce.

In India, it’s used in curries and chutneys, like this bitter gourd in tamarind curry recipe and this red onion chutney recipe. For even more authentic fare that incorporates tamarind, try making some dal dhokli.