Tamarind is something I was vaguely familiar with since I am originally from Miami, Florida where it easily grows, but it wasn’t until I spent time in the Caribbean that I became more curious about its culinary contribution and extensive health benefits. One Caribbean afternoon while hiking in late April with my husband we came across the shade of some very large Tamarind trees laden with ripening pods. Amongst the dense foliage we admired the thick brown outer shells, which encased a deeper brown sticky pulp enveloping dark brown seeds within.
What I learned is that the tamarind tree is one of the most important multipurpose tropical fruit tree species and a functional food. The sour and slightly citrusy sweet fruit is a widely used common ingredient in Thai, Indian, Mexican, Caribbean, Jamaican, Latin, and Vietnamese cuisines. It is also a key ingredient in savory dishes like Jamaican jerk sauces, chutneys, classic pad Thai, and is what gives Worcestershire sauce its distinctive tang. It’s health benefits are equally impressive.
Tamarind, Tamarindus indica is native to Africa, but has spread to almost all tropical areas of the world due to its flavor and nutritional value. It contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, which support the body in numerous ways. High in Vitamin B, C and K, it is also high in calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Especially high in the B vitamin, thiamine, tamarind supports nerve function and its high vitamin C and potent antioxidant properties helps to boost immune function and is well known for its effect on heart disease by reducing free radicals.
In tropical countries, it is used to break a fever and cool down the body, but is most well-known for treating indigestion and digestive complaints. One of the ways that Tamarind improves digestion is by stimulating bile, which aids in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine. Fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D and E are known as the anti-aging vitamins and are important considerations when designing a longevity plan.
Tamarind can also help to normalize stools and is effective against chronic diarrhea, constipation, some bacterial and parasitic infestations, and inflammation of the intestinal tract. The soluble protein and amino-acid composition of Tamarind make it an excellent digestive. Due to its rich source of most essential amino acids, vitamins and phytochemicals, tamarind is reported to possess antimicrobial (salmonella, staphylococcus aureus), antioxidant, cardio-protective and hepato-protective actions while also being useful in diabetes and reversing fatty liver disease.
Protective against heart disease, tamarind has been shown to reduce cholesterol partially due to its fiber content, which also aids in removing LDL cholesterol from the veins and arteries. The potassium in tamarind may be the responsible agent for reducing blood pressure further reducing stress on the cardiovascular system. Obviously, there are more benefits than just a cure for indigestion!
Food is indeed medicine and Tamarind is a testament. The health benefits have been well studied and the list sounds a bit like a panacea with South America and Mexico now being the largest producers and consumers of this fruit. High in many essential amino acids for building new tissue, carbohydrates for energy, and rich in minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium, Tamarind is not only a valuable functional food for improving digestion, reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure, but it is a unique and exotic flavor where both nutrition and taste reside.
Parts used: leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds
Functional and nutritional properties of tamarind (tamarindus indica) kernel protein; Food Chemistry Vol. 49, Issue 1, Pages 1-9.
Tamarindus indica: Extent of explored potential, Pharmacology Review, 2011 Jan-June; 5(9): 73-81
Tamarind Water Preparation:
2 cups of fresh (deseeded) or compressed tamarind pulp
Cover tamarind with water and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Blend in food processor or blender. Strain. Add honey to taste. Drink 1-2 cups/day.
¼ package of tamarind from a compressed block of pulp
1 ¼ cup water
8 pitted large Medjool dates
1 clove garlic
1 fresh jalapeño pepper
salt to taste
Soak tamarind in 3/4 cup hot water for one hour, mashing occasionally with a wooden spoon, strain reserving liquid. Soak dates in ½ cup warm water for 15 minutes, strain and put in food processor with tamarind water, salt, garlic and jalapeños and process until smooth. If too thick add some of the date water to thin. Serve with samosas and rice dishes.