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Spices Unearthed: Tamarind

what does tamarind taste like? what does tamarind look like?

You can follow the path of any spice by its use in local dishes.  But for tamarind, it’s as easy as following the 50 foot tree it grows on.

That’s because the tamarind tree, indigenous to Africa, is found in warm climates all over the world.  And it doesn’t travel this much unless it’s carrying something special.

tamarind tree with the pods growing on the branches

Inside the bulbous, rigid, brown pod that hangs from the tree, the tamarind spice is the sticky, reddish-brown fruit pulp that encases the inedible seeds.  Break the pod open when it’s still green and you’ll know why in Malaysia and Indonesia they call tamarind, Asam Jawa or Buah Asam, meaning ‘Javanese Sour’ and ‘Sour Fruit’.  While the green pulp is very sour and acidic, it is still used in many savory dishes.

But for most, tamarind is best when it has ripened into a tangy, sweeter fruit. Perfect for jams, juices and ice creams, and as the essential ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce and HP Sauce.

In Asia, the tartness of tamarind is combined with hot spices like chili to make sure your taste buds are working.  It’s an amazing blend that you can find in curries in south India and in the famous pad thai noodle dish in Thailand.

Packed with vitamin B and of all things, calcium, this spice is good for you too.

Still not convinced of tamarind’s magic?  How about an eco-friendly way to polish brass and copper?  Just mix tamarind with a bit of salt and water, rub it on, and voilĂ !

difference between tamarind pulps and tamarind peel

In the photo above, the pulp on the left is what most of us know as tamarind.  However, there is some confusion with the dried slices of fruit on the right, since it can also be referred to as tamarind.

The dried slices are from a small, yellow, pumpkin-shaped fruit, which bears no resemblance at all to tamarind pods.  That's because the fruit is from a completely different tree called asam gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis), which is native to Malaysia and Thailand.  The fruit slices are also known as Tamarind Peel, or asam keping in Malay.  Tamarind peel is more sour than tamarind pulp, so it is not as dynamic an ingredient, and therefore only used as a souring agent in cooking, as it is in Penang’s iconic dish - Asam Laksa.

For a taste of tamarind, try one of these delicious recipes:
tamarind assam prawns recipe
Tamarind PrawnsSeason with Spice
beef rendang recipe rendang daging
Beef Rendang - Rasa Malaysia
tomato dried chili tamarind salsa recipe
Tomato and Dried Chili Salsa - Rosa's Yummy Yums
mango tamarind shake recipe
Mango Tamarind Shake - Season with Spice


Rosa May said...

Thanks for showcasing my recipe! Tamarind is such a great spice.



Victoria at Flavors of the Sun said...

I love tamarind. Here in Mexico it is a favorite "candy" with chile. Also it is used in refreshing drinks. But I have never seen it as a brass polisher--can't wait to try it.

Cookingtacke said...

I grew up with tamarind sweets, it shaped into a tiny ball and rolled with sugar--they still my favorites!
I always wanted to try Tamarind prawns, imagine that and seeing your picture, I think i better lead my way to Jimbaran fish market now :))

Season with Spice said...

Gotta love Mexican cuisine - chili peppers in everything, even in candy

BiteMyCake said...

I've always been curious about this spice! Thanks for another educational post! :)

Nami said...

I've only used tamarind paste before but not the fruit itself. I also enjoy tamarind candies that I get from Vietnamese restaurants after the meal.. :-) I need to explore more with this spice!

Season with Spice said...

Tamarind works really well with seafood...Saute garlic, chili peppers with some tamarind juice to make a sauce for fried fish or prawns. Topped with cilantro. Simply delicious! I know you'll enjoy it, Nami.

Season with Spice said...

Hi Tanvi, you brought up a good point. Tamarind is great for snacking too - one of the few spices you can just eat on its own.

SeasonWithSpice said...

I was reading about Enoch,, who's books were removed from the Bible. Enoch talked about the Tamarind Tree. He described the aroma. He mentions several aromatic trees. Alva was one that I have yet to discover anything on.

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