Tamarind is well known for its thirst-quenching and laxative properties . This fruit is rich in tartaric acid which acts as a powerful antioxidant , helping to protect the human body from harmful free radicals. In addition, this acid gives the fruit a sour taste. There are many properties that are recognized in the pulp of the fruit, seeds and other parts of the Tamarindus indica plant and each of these has beneficial effects on the health of our body.
But, in our country and throughout the Western world it is little considered as a food . The pulp that is extracted from the fruit together with other parts of the plant are known and appreciated for their numerous medicinal properties . In addition, the pulp is abundantly present as an ingredient in numerous dishes, sweet and savory, and in numerous condiments and drinks.
Tamarind is a food that goes beyond the boundary of the spice , despite being considered as such.
Tamarind: what it is
Tamarindus indica L. is the name by which the Tamarindo plant is called in botany.
It is a large evergreen tree that prefers a tropical climate, native to East Africa and Madagascar . The genus Tamarindus belongs to the Papilionaceae family, also known as the Fabaceae or the Leguminosae. The characteristic of the plants of this family is that of producing pods containing seeds, such as beans and legumes.
In fact, the fruit of the tamarind tree is a pod with a woody but fragile shell of a brown color, indehiscent, that is, it does not open spontaneously when ripe. Very similar to a large peanut , the pod is almost cylindrical in shape and with rounded ends, smooth on the surface. On average, it’s a dozen centimeters long and a couple of inches wide.
Tamarind: nutritional values
The pulpy part inside the pod is the main edible part. Even the seeds can be an excellent source of nutrients if properly processed.
The pulp of the fruit is made up of 31% water, 57% sugar, 3% protein and 5% fiber. The fat content is also considerable, 0.6%.
Therefore, it is a very nutritious food , also considering the variety of elements it consists of. In fact, it is an ideal source for all amino acids, except tryptophan.
The pulp is rich in organic acids.
Tartaric acid is the predominant one with fine peaks at 9%, followed by citric acid 4-6%, potassium bitartrate 4.7-6% and traces of malic acid.
Contains good quality sugars , on average 20-35%, such as dextrose and levulose. It is a rich source of non-starch polysaccharides (NSPs) or dietary fiber such as:
These fibers help prevent constipation by increasing mass and bowel movements.
In addition, it contains essential volatile organic compounds such as:
- cinnamic acid
- methyl salicylate
All these compounds contribute to making tamarind a food with marked medicinal properties.
Finally, the chemical analysis of tamarind also highlights a significant amount of vitamins, especially of the B group , and of minerals in great concentration, such as:
Tamarind: health benefits
Laxative and antidiarrheal effect
It is one of the best known uses of tamarind pulp. Folk medicine hundreds of years ago already knew its applications, as it has been abundantly handed down to us.
How to make homemade syrup
In the past, but still at home today, the pulp of the tamarind fruit was extracted from the pods or silique through a purification process which consisted of immersing the pulp in boiling water.
The liquid in which the pulp had dissolved was then passed through a sieve of horsehair and left to concentrate on a low heat until a soft extract was obtained, a blackish mass with a decidedly acid taste.
Even today the extract is widely used in traditional medicine both as a laxative and as an antidiarrheal.
In the first case, at a low dosage (20-40 grams), the syrup obtained from the pulp of the fruit allows the intestinal function to regulate itself.
Its content of malic acid, tartaric acid and potassium and the high content of non-starch polysaccharides (NSP), that is dietary fiber, help prevent constipation , increasing mass and bowel movements.
On the other hand, at higher concentrations (60-100 grams) it has a laxative effect , with the advantage of not causing colitis pains.
Treatment of diarrhea
Instead, tamarind leaves are used for the treatment of diarrhea , while in cases of abdominal pain the roots and the softer parts of the bark are very effective, in the form of a decoction.
The latter are treatments not quite handy, but some well-stocked herbalists may have these parts of the tamarind plant available. Furthermore, some pharmaceutical products use the active ingredients obtained from the plant to obtain products that are easier to use and distribute.
In the 16th century, an Italian doctor Pietro Andrea Mattioli, luminary of the famous Salerno medical school, defined tamarind as useful ” to make the body move “.
Both the seeds and the pulp of the tamarind are attributed antioxidant effects. In fact, the fruit is an excellent source of:
- oligomeric proanthocyanidins
- phenolic compounds
- C vitamin
- provitamin A (beta-carotene).
These substances are an important antioxidant defense barrier with a protective action on our body.
They help counteract the effect of some reactive oxygen compounds (ROS) produced by the body during normal cellular metabolism. They are the known ” free radicals” , recognized as responsible for the development of many pathological states, such as:
tumors, weakening of the visual system
other phenomena related to aging in general, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
According to the most recent studies conducted, the antioxidants of tamarind, in particular of seeds, can effectively intervene in slowing down the degenerative processes that lead to the aging of the organism caused by those responsible for oxidative damage. (Santosh Singh Bhadoriya et al., 2011).
Anti cholesterol and hypotensive
Epidemiological studies have shown that the flavonides present in the fruits of tamarind have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system .
In fact, the intake of the fruit extract caused a reduction in cholesterol (LDL) and triglyceride levels in the blood , favoring increases in HDL (good cholesterol).
For this reason, the fruits, but also the derivatives of tamarind seeds are recommended as a nutritional aid in subjects at risk of cardiovascular diseases linked to an excessive presence of cholesterol in the blood .
The antioxidant compounds present in the fruit pulp also have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, protecting it from diseases caused by free radicals due to oxidative stress.
In addition, potassium and magnesium are both well represented in the tamarind fruit and are two important components of cell and body fluids that help control heart rate and blood pressure . Another abundant mineral in the fruit is iron, which is essential in the formation of red blood cells and as a co-factor for cytochrome oxidase enzymes.
The high fiber content generates a decrease in fat absorption and better control of sugar absorption, contributing to the prevention and treatment of obesity and associated metabolic disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
Tamarind and diabetes
Tamarind is widely used as a traditional medicine for the management of diabetes mellitus in India.
In fact, type I and II diabetes mellitus is caused by an abnormal release of insulin due to damage resulting from chronic inflammation of the ß cells of the pancreatic islets. The extract of tamarind seeds, by virtue of its anti-inflammatory, blood glucose regulation and pancreatic tissue defense properties, shows a protective activity on these cells .
Hence, tamarind extract exhibits excellent hypoglycemic properties, keeping blood glucose levels low.
Recent studies have shown a positive correlation between the levels of intracellular calcium [Ca²⁺] in the pancreas and the release of insulin. The anti-inflammatory action of the extract is significant and would favor the neogenesis of pancreatic β cells and the improvement of the normal functioning of the gland.
Antibacterial and antiparasitic properties
Thanks to the content of polyphenols and flavonoids, especially in the leaves as well as in various other parts of the plant, antibacterial and antiparasitic properties are attributed to Tamarindus indica .
The decoctions and essential oils of tamarind , as well as antimalarial and antimicrobial agents, are commonly used for numerous infections, especially against:
- Burkholderia pseudomallei (bacterium responsible for Melioidosis, an infectious and contagious disease of mice, transmissible to humans through contaminated food and drink)
- Klebsiella pneumoniae (which causes pneumonia and urinary infections)
- Salmonella typhi and paratyphi (Salmonella bacteria responsible for typhoid fever and enteric fevers in general)
- Escherichia coli (which can cause infections of the digestive tract, urinary tract, or many other parts of the body)
- S taphylococcus aureus (responsible for acute suppurative infections in various parts of the body such as skin, skeletal system, respiratory system, urinary system and central nervous system)
- Pseudomona aeruginosa (a very common opportunistic pathogen that produces infections especially in debilitated, immunocompromised or hospitalized individuals)
- Candida albicans (a saprophytic fungus normally found in the oral cavity, gastrointestinal tract and vagina).
Tamarind stimulates the immune system
Tamarind also stimulates the immune system and reduces the presence of parasites in the blood. Its antiparasitic properties derive from the presence of tannin especially in the seeds.
In fact, this binds the glycoproteins present on the external surface of the parasite and causes its death. For example, in India, its leaves are also attributed antihelminthic properties, that is, capable of killing and expelling intestinal worms .
Anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic effects
The presence of polyphenols and flavonoids in the leaves, seeds and other parts of the plant is associated with anti-inflammatory and nociceptive effects, although not very high.
Phytochemical tests have shown the presence of sterols and triterpenes in the tamarind extract, compounds that may be responsible for the analgesic activity shown by this plant. Analgesic effects have been studied on models of mechanical, chemical and sunburn pain.
The pulp of the fruit also has antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, it is an excellent adjuvant because, in addition to lowering fever , it has an antimicrobial and antibacterial effect.
It is also indicated in cases of rheumatic fevers.
Treatment of epidermal wounds and gastric ulcers
Tamarindus indica is one of the most cited plants among the remedies of traditional medicine in the cure and treatment of cuts, wounds and abscesses. The bark and leaves are the most commonly used parts. The medicament is made in the form of a decoction or slurry , also in combination with other components of different plants, and is applied to the affected part.
The antimicrobial and healing power is very effective.
In the same way, the extracts of the tamarind seed exert a protective action against gastric ulcers caused, for example, by excessive consumption of alcohol or other substances that can damage the mucous membranes.
This effect is believed to be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of the polyphenolic components contained in the tamarind seeds against free radicals. Tamarind fiber is also particularly effective in protecting the mucous membrane of the colon by binding to potentially dangerous toxins present in food.
Digestive and protective effect of the liver
The tamarind fruit has shown, already in folk medicine but also in the scientific studies performed, an important protective action to the advantage of the liver , in disorders related to the formation of bile and the normal functioning of the biliary tract and gallbladder.
To this property corresponds a better digestive efficiency and the ability of the fruit to ensure an effective reintegration of minerals and organic acids, with a consequent refreshing and regenerating effect.
The dried tamarind bark, crushed and then added to water, was used in the past to treat eye inflammation.
Today, thanks to new technologies, the use of the beneficial principles of tamarind in ophthalmology is greatly expanding.
TSP, Tamarind Seed Polysaccharide, is a purified, neutral and water-soluble polysaccharide fraction obtained from the endosperm of tamarind seeds.
Recent research has also demonstrated its potential for use in the pharmaceutical industry, in the contactology and ophthalmic fields. TSP has recently been considered as a new generation tear substitute due to the similarity of its structure with the mucins present in the corneal and conjunctival epithelia, resulting in excellent muco-adhesive properties by the polysaccharide.
Therefore, thanks to its bioadhesive, mucoadhesive and viscoelastic properties, solutions containing TSP have shown a longer resistance time in contact with the ocular surface compared to other tear substitutes.
Contraindications and drug interactions
The tamarind belongs to the same family of legumes and this would cause the same allergic reactions in those who are already sensitive to legumes. The symptoms are the classic ones of:
- rashes and itching
- respiratory difficulties
- He retched.
Interactions with some medicines
It can also interact with the intake of some medicines.
For example, with ibuprofen it can cause an increase in its bioavailability in the blood. On the other hand, with acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin , there is a risk of bleeding.
The same happens in cases of subjects under treatment with blood thinners or anti-inflammatories and NSAIDs. Those who suffer from diabetes and take drugs against glycemic excesses in the blood must take into account that tamarind has a strong sugary component , although the fruit is recognized as hypoglycemic.
Therefore, it is good to take moderate amounts. In all these cases, the prior opinion of the treating doctor is always recommended .
Among the side effects it should be borne in mind that prolonged use of tamarind can lead to the deterioration of the tooth enamel due to the excessive acidity of the fruit.
As for the other parts of the plant, such as the inner part of the seeds, recent studies (Lida et al.) Have reported that no particular toxic or side effects are recorded, other than those already reported.
The tannin and other components of tamarind seeds can burden its digestion, so it is recommended to take it with warm water.
How to consume tamarind
The pods can be found for sale in their natural state, both fresh and dried , especially in ethnic shops or in well-stocked retail outlets.
The internal pulp that surrounds the seeds is extracted from the pods, which are also edible if deprived of their hard coating.
At the time of purchase it is preferable to choose those with the intact wrapping and, weighing them, those that appear full of pulp.
The tamarind shells like a peanut , taking care not to damage the sticky pulp underneath, which in any case has a compact appearance. Once the pulp is extracted, it is separated from the seeds with the help of a knife.
After being cleaned, the tamarind pulp can be used as it is or undergo a subsequent purification treatment by dissolution in boiling water and concentration (both for cooking in a water bath and for drying in the sun).
Preparation of drinks, infusions and syrup
In this way, it can be used for the preparation of refreshing and regenerating drinks, infusions or syrups, or for the production of confectionery products , such as candies and jams, jellies, candied fruit or dried fruit.
The different preparations are all obtained starting from the pulp of the fruits. The ready-made pulp that is available on the market can be defined as “raw” or “purified” depending on the content or otherwise of parts of the fruit, mixed with seeds or leaves.
The pulp is dark brown , almost black (brown or black tamarind), or reddish brown (red or blond tamarind).
Use of leaves and roots
You can prepare tamarind drinks, decoctions and infusions with other parts of the plant, namely the leaves and roots.
In fact, these parts also have properties different from those of the fruit, such as antioxidant and protective properties of liver functions.
In the herbalists provided you can buy the dried leaves of the tamarind. Alternatively, you can use ready-made sachets.
The use of tamarind syrup goes as far as the preparation of a liqueur with a particularly sour taste, in whose formulation there is also the addition of gin and lemon juice.
Homemade pods and extracts: conservation
Tamarind pods can be stored for about three weeks as long as they are stored in a cool, dry place.
Instead, the extract made at home should be kept in the refrigerator where it can last up to six months. To store it properly it is important to use wooden, ceramic or plastic containers, never iron or copper.
For other products purchased already packaged, check the expiration date printed on the packaging.
The tamarind preserve is a product that is easily found on the market.
The one for sale in pharmacies is usually mixed with other herbs with laxative properties and is more specifically indicated for that purpose. Tamarind jam can also be made at home: it is an excellent condiment to accompany savory and salty foods, such as cheeses.
Similarly, jellies can be prepared or the extract added as an acidic sweetener in the galenic technique for the correction of the flavor of some preparations.
Alternative uses of tamarind
In addition to its gastronomic and pharmacological use, tamarind is used for the preparation of cosmetic products.
In India, tamarind is used as a dye and for the tanning of tobacco.
Use in the kitchen
The pulp of the tamarind is also used in pasta, generally in combination with other spices, as a sweet and sour condiment, especially for grilled meats or for the preparation of vegetable soups or dishes based on fish or shellfish.
It is a kind of dark brown viscous cream that is sometimes sold under vacuum. Its smell has a delicate fruity aroma. The taste is sour, very fruity and, to appreciate its characteristics, it must be added to foods either directly in the dish being cooked, either raw on food or in addition to sauces.
Used in cooking
In most of the countries as well as in the “western” geographical area, the use of tamarind in cooking is very rare and limited.
It is used in the preparation of refreshing drinks, decoctions, herbal teas and in the preparation of some confectionery products, or at most as an ingredient in Worcester sauce.
Lovers of a certain oriental and Middle Eastern cuisine, on the other hand, know perfectly well that tamarind is a fundamental ingredient for the preparation of many dishes, where the sweet and sour taste is a custom.
Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine make abundant use of it, in any form, from the simple preparation of delicate sauces, chutney dressings to elaborate curry recipes and vegetable and fish or vegetable and legume soups, as well as meat or fish.
One of the simplest preparations is ” Rasam “, also known as ” Saaru in Kannada “.
Rasam in Tamil means “juice” and is a spiced soup with tamarind, tomatoes and herbs. The most used spices are:
- black pepper.
A very digestive and popular soup in southern India , within everyone’s reach and also very popular with children , in the version without pepper or chilli.
Tamarind chutney ( saunth ki chatni ) is made with tamarind paste combined with chilli, ginger, coriander and salt. The addition of sugar allows you to adjust the degree of sweet and sour, which can alternatively be enhanced with the addition of dates, palm or cane sugar. To these you can add cumin seeds, nigella seeds (or black cumin – kalonji) and fennel seeds.
Like most chutneys, the one with tamarind is also characterized by a strong spiciness and a sweet and sour taste.
Instead, closer to the Thai taste, is the coconut chutney , a condiment composed of a chopped pulp of grated coconut, green chillies and tamarind puree, to which black mustard seeds and stir-fried coriander are added. with ghee (the clarified butter of Ayurvedic cuisine).
The plant is long-lived and can reach almost two centuries of age.
Its vast canopy can reach a height of about 25 meters. Although it has a very slow growth with a development of around 60 centimeters per year, it offers extraordinary solidity. Thanks to its deep and branched roots, the tamarind tree manages to stabilize the soil and form a windbreak barrier. In addition, its dense canopy does not allow undergrowth to grow and, for this reason, it also offers good protection from the spread of small fires.
The plant develops a low, squat, hardwood center stem with a rough brown-greyish bark. The trunk can reach a diameter of over 2 meters and from this the branches that make up the aerial part develop. The branches are very dense, long and heavy, so that they bend easily. In crops, the branches are often pruned to optimize density and facilitate fruit harvesting.
The crown of the tree therefore has a very irregular shape, in the shape of a vase, consisting of a conspicuous leaf density.
The leaves are small (less than 3 cm) glabrous, with a short petiole, they are pinnate-compound, that is, grouped in twigs that host from 10 to 18 pairs, arranged alternately and paripinnate. They are glossy green on the top and pale green on the bottom. Their shape is slightly oblong, elliptical-ovular.
Tamarind flowers are hermaphroditic, inconspicuous but pleasantly scented.
The buds are pink in color, completely enclosed by two bracts that fall off very early when the flower opens.
They are just over 2 cm wide, formed by four sepals and five petals, of which only the upper three are well developed and yellow with orange or red streaks.
The inflorescences are grouped in small racemes of about 20 cm.
Flowering generally occurs around the same time as new leaf growth occurs, which in most areas occurs during spring.
The fruits are harvested in spring-summer . The plant bears fruit very late, between 7 and 12 years after sowing. The yield of the pods stabilizes around 15 years.
The long period that precedes the first fruiting has given rise to a famous proverb in the East, namely: ” who plants tamarinds does not harvest tamarinds ” .
The plant remains productive until old age, yielding up to 150 kg per tree each year.
Being a tropical species , tamarind grows well in full sun and is sensitive to frost.
The tamarind prefers clayey soils mixed with loam and sand . It can withstand drought by shedding its leaves, as well as occasional short floods. It also grows near coastal areas and resists light splashes of saline water. It is very sensitive to frost and does not grow well below 7 ° C.
Tamarind: historical notes
The name of the tamarind comes from the Arabic tamar = date and Hindi = Indian, that is “date of India”. The explanation lies in the shape of the pods which look similar to a date or a finger (dactylus).
The tamarind tree has been widespread throughout tropical Asia since ancient times, particularly in the Indian subcontinent.
It seems to have reached southern Asia thanks to the exchanges between the Arab and Indian populations, who favored its cultivation already several thousand years before Christ. In fact, the tamarind has often been reported as indigenous to India, where it is known as ” imli ” in Hindi-Urdu and where it is celebrated every November, as the tree is linked to Krishna’s marriage according to Hindu mythology.
Instead, we know it is native to East Africa where it grows wild in:
It then spread to different places, both in Southeast Asia, but also in the western part of the African continent, such as in Cameroon and Nigeria. It is also found in the wild in the Arabian peninsula, in Oman, in Dhofar, where it grows on the mountain slopes overlooking the sea.
Middle Ages and expansion of the tamarind
In the Middle Ages, the crusaders engaged in various “holy wars” were able to come into close contact with Arab culture.
From this they learned, among other things, notions on the consumption of the essence of tamarind , which at the time was already widespread among the Arabs, then transferring them to their lands of origin.
But the Arabs, in Europe, had already had the opportunity to report their knowledge on the fruit, witnessing its appreciation and spreading its properties in the field of traditional medicine.
The doctor Ali Alhervi, already at the beginning of the ninth century, compared the laxative action of tamarind to that of Syrian plums.
Instead, the doctor Abd-al-Latif (1150-1220), who practiced in Baghdad, recommended an infusion of tamarind and camphor for toothache .
But, it was the Spaniards, in the seventeenth century, who introduced the plant in the New World or in the “West Indies”, where it is still cultivated today. The tamarind was first transplanted to the Antilles , where it gave birth to a short-fruited oligospermic variety called ” Tamarindus occidentalis ” to distinguish it from the long-fruited Afro-Asian variety, called ” Tamarindus orientalis “.
Subsequently, the spread of the plant affected the rest of the Caribbean area and Central America, particularly Mexico. The Portuguese also helped bring the cultivation to other areas of the South American continent, especially Brazil.
The cultivation of Tamarind today also affects:
- Northern Australia
- some parts of Florida.
Currently, India is the largest producer of tamarind.
Excellent productions also come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria, followed by many other tropical countries, where it is used in traditional medicine , as well as as a basic food. The eating habits of the Indian subcontinent have helped to consolidate the productive importance of tamarind over time and its diffusion is due precisely to its central role in the kitchens of all Southeast Asia .
It is precisely in the arid areas of Asia that tamarind grows abundantly and its fruit, when ripe, is exported fresh, dried and also in the form of an extract or paste, in more than sixty countries.
United States Department of Agriculture – USDA .