If you like discovering new healthy food items that you can add to your diet for delicious and medically beneficial reasons, then you might want to read up on tamarinds. Nature is full of fruits and vegetables that are both excellent for consumption and taste good as well. And of course, if you don’t feel like eating that particular fruit or vegetable raw, you can always use it to enhance many dishes and recipes out there.
In this post we’ll take a brief look at tamarinds, a little bit of their history, which cultures around the world use them the most for both culinary as well as medicinal reasons, how you can incorporate tamarinds in your daily diet, and what health benefits they come with if you do start to eat them. We’ll also discuss a bit about what the fruit is like, and the basics of eating it, raw or in a dish.
A Brief History of Tamarinds
Tamarinds are native to Africa, but are also grown in a few other places around the world; namely the countries of India and Pakistan in addition to a few other tropical lands. Tamarinds are found growing in the wild in many African countries, including but not limited to Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan Somalia, Nigeria, and Zambia. However, tamarinds made their way to the subcontinent so long ago that oftentimes they are mistaken as being native to India as well as Africa. The fact that India today is the largest producer of tamarinds only further propagates this misconception.
Central America, Mexico, and South America were first introduced to the fruit in the 16th Century, when Spanish and Portuguese colonists brought it along with them. Tamarinds quickly became a staple food item in the region. The subcontinent, i.e. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are the largest consumers of tamarinds alongside Mexico and, to some extent, the Americas. Tamarinds have a solid place as a crucial ingredient in many of the local cuisines found in these regions.
The Design and Taste of Tamarinds
Tamarind trees grow best in sunny locales with acidic soil types. The leaflets of these trees are bright green and have an exotic look to them, and also close up at night. Tamarind fruits themselves consist of a hard, brown shell as an outer covering, with the fruit being found inside.
The tamarind fruit found inside is small, being found in multiple numbers within each shell. Asian varieties of tamarinds produce more fruit per shell, while African and West Indian variants produce approximately half. The fruit itself is quite small, and has a sour acidic taste that can at times be too bitter, a quality for which it is highly enjoyed by locals of the regions it is grown in.
The fruit, though often enjoyed raw for its acidic taste, is also widely used in making pastes and chutneys to be served alongside dishes. Indian and Pakistani consumers in particular like to serve the chutney syrup as a dressing alongside samosas and other slightly spicy foodstuffs. Called ‘imli’ by subcontinental locals, its paste and chutney variants are also used to flavor other dishes. Unripe and young tamarind fruits in general are favored for their use in dishes, as they are too bitter to eat raw but just enough to be able to be used in small quantities in dishes for major effect.
Apart from the many curries, chutneys, and sharbat drinks that benefit from tamarinds in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, tamarinds are also used for other purposes, especially in Africa. One such example would be its use in making poisonous yams safe for consumption by humans in Ghana. Southeast Asia also uses tamarinds to cure fevers and constipation because of the high concentrations of some acids in tamarinds. In the Middle East on the other hand, tamarinds are used to flavor either fancier dishes – most of which include meat and meat-based stews – or are eaten alongside dried fruits to add a sour and tangy taste to the whole mixture. In the Philippines, tamarinds are used like a substitute for vinegar in a dish called sinigang, while in Mexico and the Caribbean, the people prefer to dilute tamarinds with water and sugar to make aguafresca drink.
Health Benefits of Eating Tamarinds
Of course, we wouldn’t be here talking about tamarinds if all it did was taste good or make certain dishes better. So let’s discuss some of the more helpful health benefits you can expect to encounter if you add tamarinds to your diet.
Tamarinds Are Great for Your Skin: Tamarinds have a history of being scrubbed along the body in the cultures it has been present in for so long. The presence of tartaric acid, citric acid, malic acid, and lactic acid in tamarind fruit has been well proven to smooth out the skin. However, tamarind pulp has another use for skin. It has been widely used to decrease the amount of melanin in a person’s skin to achieve a lighter look for the skin, something many people in the subcontinent are obsessed by.
Tamarinds Also Help Manage Weight: Studies done with lab rats on fat-heavy diets who were then fed tamarind pulp indicate that due to the properties of tamarind fruit that result in lower “bad” cholesterol and more “good” cholesterol, alongside reducing fatty acid synthase allowed the tamarind pulp to regulate obesity and the negative effects of obesity in the rats. Thus, it is also quite clear that humans who add tamarinds to their diet as a regularly consumed food item, will very likely see the same benefits for their own self.
Tamarinds Help Heart Health and Manage Diabetes: Tamarind pulp has also been found to reduce diastolic blood pressure, while also lowering the risk of arteries being clogged. Not only does this make for a healthier heart, it also prevents other problems like hypertension that can result from them. And because of its tendency to lower blood sugar levels as well as its anti-inflammatory qualities, tamarind pulp can be used to manage diabetes very handily.
Tamarinds Also Help Maintain Liver Health: According to more studies carried out with tamarind pulp, it was recorded that the pulp extract reduced the liver’s oxidative stress, leading to anti-inflammatory action as well as better health for your liver alongside a bunch of other organs as well.
You might not have been too familiar with tamarinds before this post, if at all, but hopefully you’re now at least going to give it a try to see if you like it or not. And chances are, you will like it in some way, shape, or form. Whether you decide to consume raw tamarinds or tamarind pastes for the sour and acidic taste that thrills your taste buds, or decide to use it to give your existing recipes that extra punch from now on, remain up to you. But no matter which method of consumption you choose, you’re getting better tasting food at no detrimental cost to your health.