Tamarind is a type of tropical fruit used in many dishes around the world.
It may even have medicinal properties.
This article tells you everything you need to know about tamarind, including what it is, how it may benefit health, whether it has any risks, and how to use it.
- What it is
- Types of tamarind
- Antioxidant effects
- Magnesium effects
- Other benefits
- Risks of tamarind candy
- How to eat tamarind
What is tamarind?
Tamarind is a hardwood tree known scientifically as Tamarindus indica.
It’s native to Africa but also grows in India, Pakistan, and many other tropical regions.
The tree produces bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by a fibrous pulp.
The pulp of the young fruit is green and sour. As it ripens, the juicy pulp becomes paste-like and more sweet-sour.
Summary: Tamarind is a tropical tree that grows in several regions worldwide. It produces pods filled with paste-like, sweet-sour fruit.
How is tamarind used?
This fruit has many uses, including cooking, health, and household purposes.
Tamarind pulp is widely used for cooking in South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. The seeds and leaves are also edible.
It is used in sauces, marinades, chutneys, drinks, and desserts. It’s also one of the ingredients of Worcestershire sauce.
Tamarind has played an essential role in traditional medicine.
In beverage form, it was commonly used to treat diarrhea, constipation, fever, and malaria. The bark and leaves were also used to promote wound healing.
Modern researchers are now studying this plant for potential medicinal uses.
The polyphenols in tamarind have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These can protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Tamarind pulp can also be used as a metal polish. It contains tartaric acid, which helps remove tarnish from copper and bronze.
Summary: Tamarind is a flavoring in many dishes. It may also have medicinal properties and can be used as a tarnish remover.
Tamarind nutrition facts
Tamarind is high in many nutrients. A single cup (120 grams) of the pulp contains:
- Magnesium: 26% of the daily value
- Potassium: 16% of the daily value
- Iron: 19% of the daily value
- Calcium: 7% of the daily value
- Phosphorus: 11% of the daily value
- Copper: 11% of the daily value
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 43% of the daily value
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 14% of the daily value
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 15% of the daily value
It has trace amounts of:
- vitamin C
- vitamin K
- vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
It also contains 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and less than 1 gram of fat. This comes with a total of 287 calories.
These calories almost all come from sugar — but whole fruits typically contain a lot of natural sugar. Despite its sugar content, tamarind pulp is considered a fruit, not an added sugar.
Added sugar is the kind that’s linked to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, and it’s the kind of sugar that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you limit.
It also contains polyphenols, naturally occurring plant compounds with health benefits. Many of them act as antioxidants in the body.
Summary: Tamarind contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and beneficial plant compounds.
Different forms of tamarind
Tamarind is available in prepared forms, such as candy and sweetened syrup.
You can also find the pure fruit in three primary forms:
- - Raw pods. These pods are the least processed form of tamarind. They’re still intact and can be easily opened to remove the pulp.
- - Pressed block. To make these, the shell and seeds are removed, and the pulp is compressed into a block. These blocks are one step away from raw tamarind.
- - Concentrate. Tamarind concentrate is the pulp that has been boiled down. Preservatives may also be added.
Summary: Pure tamarind comes in three primary forms: raw pods, pressed blocks, and concentrate. It’s also available as candy and syrup.
Tamarind may boost heart health
This fruit may boost heart health in several ways.
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It contains polyphenols like flavonoids, some of which can help regulate cholesterol levels.
One study in hamsters with high cholesterol found that tamarind fruit extract lowered total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Another animal study in vivo found that the antioxidants in this fruit can help reduce oxidative damage to LDL cholesterol, which is a crucial driver of heart disease.
Summary: Tamarind pulp contains plant compounds that may protect against heart disease and oxidative damage, but more research needs be conducted on human participants to understand its benefits better.
Tamarind is packed with magnesium
One ounce (30 grams), or a little less than 1/4 cup of pulp, delivers 5% of the daily value.
Magnesium has many health benefits and plays a role in more than 600 body functions. It can also help lower blood pressure and has anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic effects.
However, up to 20% of people in the United States do not get enough magnesium.
Summary: Tamarind contains a good amount of magnesium, an essential mineral that plays a role in over 600 functions in the body.
Tamarind may have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial effects
Tamarind extract contains natural compounds that have antimicrobial effects.
Studies show this plant may have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial activity.
It has also been used in traditional medicine to treat diseases like malaria.
A compound called lupeol is credited for tamarind’s antibacterial effects.
Summary: Several studies show that tamarind can combat many different microbes. It may help kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
Risks of tamarind candy
Lead exposure is dangerous, especially for children and pregnant people. It can damage the kidneys and nervous system.
Suggested read: Oranges: Nutrients, health benefits, juice, and more
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited tamarind candy as a cause of lead poisoning in several cases in 1999.
The fruit itself doesn’t contain lead. However, because it is acidic, it may cause lead to leech from certain ceramic vessels into food.
Although it has fewer calories and less sugar than many other types of candy, it is still candy — making it the most minor nutritious form of tamarind.
Summary: Some tamarind candy has been found to contain unsafe amounts of lead due to cross-contamination. Therefore, children and pregnant people should consult a healthcare professional before consuming it.
How to eat tamarind
You can enjoy this fruit in several ways.
One is to simply eat the fruit from the raw pods, as shown in this video.
You can also use tamarind paste in cooking. You can either prepare it from the pods or purchase it as a block.
The paste is often mixed with sugar to make candy. Tamarind can also be used to make condiments like chutney.
Additionally, you can use the frozen, unsweetened pulp or sweetened tamarind syrup for cooking.
You may also use this fruit to add a sour note to savory dishes instead of lemon.
Summary: There are several ways to enjoy tamarind. It can be used in sweet and savory dishes or eaten straight from the pod.
Tamarind is a popular sweet and sour fruit used worldwide.
It has many beneficial nutrients.
Two of the best ways to enjoy this fruit are to eat it raw or to use it as an ingredient in savory dishes.