These days, there’s a sea of health knowledge being constantly thrown at consumers. Therefore, it’s a good idea to stay informed about some of the proclaimed benefits of various “health foods”. Do their benefits necessarily align with your desired health goals, or are there any effects that are less than desirable? Fortunately, there is a fruit with loads of flavor AND health benefits – tamarind!
Perhaps you haven’t heard of tamarind before. Well-known fruits like apples and bananas usually make it onto health foods lists. But what about some of the more intriguing or exotic choices? Dietitians advise us to eat a number of different fruits and vegetables for their variety of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients. Tamarind is one that ticks a number of these boxes, and that’s no surprise given its versatile and rich history.
What is Tamarind?
The tamarind tree is a kind of tree that also produces a pod-like fruit (often referred to by the same name) that happens to be a legume. This versatile and delicious fruit also contains a myriad of health benefits. While the original home of tamarind is Africa, countries like India and Pakistan now primarily export it. Tamarind, after all, plays a HUGE role in making Indian/South Asian cuisine utterly delicious!
Tamarind’s Spiritual Roots
Health is a multi-tiered topic that also encompasses spirituality. Health officials and scholars have documented the power of spirituality on health. Many cultures consider tamarind an embodiment of both yin and yang energy, which instills a sense of balance and harmony.
For example, certain African and Caribbean cultures consider tamarind a very spiritual food. Tamarind trees, considered “spirit trees”, are said to have deep-reaching roots that reach the underworld, which connects this plant to all planes of existence. It is even said that cutting this tree down without replacing it would be a bad omen for all future crops.
How Does It Taste?
After getting a flavor of tamarind’s science and cultural history, let’s now talk about its taste. You can consume tamarind either fresh or dried, but the flavor can be a bit extreme if you don’t know how to mix it with other flavors. The pulp of the fruit is green and sour. However, as it ripens, the pulp takes on a paste-like consistency and gradually becomes sweeter. Unsurprisingly, tamarind is often referred to as the “date of India” and is used in a variety of ways in Indian cuisine.
Some of its traditional preparations
You can use tamarind to make chutneys, thicken stews or even serve as a tangy marinade. Also, you can use tamarind as the foundation for all sorts of delectable dishes and condiments. In particular, Middle Eastern cooking includes many of these kinds of preparations.
However, tamarind can make a bold and creative addition to almost any recipe. The strong flavor can help tenderize meat as well, which can make for more interesting flavors. You can also use the pulp like a jam and easily spread it on toast or pastries. If you’re more adventurous, you can even drizzle this syrup on vegan ice cream for extra sweetness or even in coffee to sweeten its flavor. When baked, tamarind paste can also be molded into fun shapes for any holiday or as simple cake decorations. Tamarind does, however, harden after sitting out, so be mindful of how you prepare and store it.
But maybe you want to use it even more frequently! Tamarind makes a wonderful natural sweetener with a little bit of the paste going a long way. It is also common to use many fruits and veggies in juices and smoothies, and tamarind should be no exception. Even on its own, tamarind juice can make for a refreshing beverage, like the one commonly made in Mexico. But perhaps you’d like to use it in a health-conscious smoothie in place of dates or coconut flakes. You can even add tamarind juice or syrup to alcohol, especially whiskey and bourbon, as it balances the strong smoky flavors of these liquors.
How to Eat Tamarind
You can eat tamarind fresh, but be sure to consume it properly by following safe procedures, especially when eating and storing tamarind for future use.
- First, crack open the tamarind pod. If the pods are too hard to snap open, try placing them in boiling water. This will soften the skin and reveal the flesh inside.
- Once you see the pulp inside, pull away the strings, which are much like the strings in a green bean. Each pod contains seeds inside that you don’t want to eat.
- The flesh of tamarind pods is more tart if it is less ripe, so be mindful of that when trying to eat them fresh. The flesh attached to the seeds is always going to be tart, but it is still edible. Eat around the seeds like you would in cherries.
- Tamarind can be very sticky, so be sure to have a cloth to clean up.
- Store tamarind pods in a cool, dark place, like the back of a cabinet. Doing this should help them keep for a bit longer. Also, be sure to look at the expiration date if you buy tamarind in prepackaged loafs.
The Medicinal Benefits of Tamarind
As previously mentioned, tamarind has a plethora of health benefits. Some of its studied effects include lowering cholesterol and preventing the absorption of fluoride in humans. Fluoride has been shown to have negative effects on cognitive abilities, but the use of tamarind can help the body expel this mineral. Tamarind has also played an important role in traditional medicine. Traditional medicine practitioners and healers around the world have used the beverage form of tamarind to commonly treat diarrhea, constipation, fever and peptic ulcers.
They also use the bark and leaves to promote wound healing by creating a paste from the pulp as a makeshift band-aid. The polyphenols in tamarind have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are important for protecting the epidermis from constant exposure from free radicals. In addition, these polyphenols can protect against diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The seed extract may also help lower blood sugar, while the pulp extract may help you lose body weight and reverse fatty liver disease.
Tamarind is also high in many nutrients. A single cup (120 grams) of the pulp contains: 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat. A cup of pulp can total of 287 calories, almost all of which are from sugar. In fact, a single cup of tamarind contains 69 grams of carbs in the form of sugar, which is equivalent to 17.5 teaspoons of sugar. However, it’s important to note that consuming a cup of this fruit in one sitting is rare. Despite its sugar content, tamarind pulp still comes from fruit, not purified or added sugar, which is more likely to induce type 2 diabetes.
There are some instances where consuming tamarind is not advisable, as the health benefits don’t outweigh the risks. There have been studies that showcase a high lead content in tamarind, so pregnant women and children may want to avoid this fruit.
Where Do I Find It?
A very common question when showcasing this foodie favorite: where do you buy it? Besides the obvious online offerings, you can often purchase tamarind from local grocery stores in the ethnic section or ethnic grocery stores themselves. The offerings often come in premade paste, which can look like a moist loaf. If you are looking for the pods, then April through July is probably the best time to find them.
Is Tamarind for Me?
Tamarind is a fruit that does need to be studied more, as not many human subjects have been studied for the long-term effects of eating this fruit in a test environment. Researchers believe this fruit may be the answer to a long list of health problems, and it’s a natural source of vitamins and minerals. However, questions of personal taste and dietary preferences certainly matter.
In summary, the health benefits of tamarind are numerous, and this versatile fruit can entice the taste buds of many. It has a rich spiritual and culinary tradition, and it has many unique uses and preparations. There should also be a number of ways for you to get your hands on this fruit, so definitely give it a try if you haven’t before. With tamarind, one thing is especially clear: this is a fruit whose distinctive taste and cultural signature are ones that you’ll never forget.
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