Tamarind

Tamarind has been used since ancient times for both its flavor and its medicinal benefits, which include lowering blood pressure and relieving constipation.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Tamarind, Indian date
  • Scientific nameTamarindus Indica
  • Geographic distributionTropical Africa
  • Plant typeTree
  • Main producer(s)India
  • Main Economic UseFood industry, Culinary
Tamarind

Tamarind first was domesticated in Africa, and spread across the tropical world, making it a popular choice in many cuisines. It was domesticated by humans over 2,500 years ago, with the earliest signs of its cultivation being traced back to ancient Egypt. Although it has now been adapted for growth throughout the world, its natural habitat consisted of tropical regions.

Tamarind Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts (Medicinal Properties)
  • Medicinal actionLaxative
  • Key constituentsMalic acid, tartaric acid
  • Ways to useLiquid extracts, Food, Juiced, Syrup
  • Medicinal rating(1) Very minor uses
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Tamarind

Tamarind, used medicinally for over 2,500 years, has been traditionally used for the following purposes:

  • Stimulating bowel movements. The fruit of tamarind acts as a mild laxative because it contains high levels of organic acids.

Along with these primary benefits, secondary medicinal benefits include:

  • Regulating cholesterol profile. Studies suggest that tamarind extract may help lowering bad cholesterol and preventing arteries from clogging.
  • Lowering blood pressure. Research has shown that extracts of tamarind can lower blood pressure.

How It Works

Tamarind is rich in iron, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. As well as these minerals, tamarind also contains essential vitamins, but it is rich in B complex, particularly B1 (thiamine). The fruit also contains tartaric acid, malic acid, and citric acid, which give it laxative properties. It helps to lubricate the intestines, facilitating bowel movements.

Although its exact mechanisms of action are yet to be understood, tamarind has shown hypotensive and hypocholesterolemic effects, which work to lower blood pressure and manage cholesterol levels in the body.

In traditional medicine, tamarind is also used to fight fever, reduce abdominal pain, and treat wounds.

Other herbs that can help regulate bowel movements are psyllium and senna.

Tamarin Side Effects

Tamarind is likely safe for most people when taken by mouth. However, very little research has been done regarding its potential medicinal uses, so the potential side effects are unknown. There are, however, certain individuals who should use tamarind with caution because it can affect blood sugar levels.

Cautions

While tamarind is safe for most people, those who have diabetes should use tamarind with caution, since it can lower blood sugar levels. For this reason, it is also recommended that anyone who will have having surgery in the near future should avoid using tamarind. For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, very little is known regarding its potential side effects, so consulting a doctor before taking tamarind is recommended.

How to Consume Tamarind

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesColoring, Condiment
  • TasteTangy, Pungent

While tamarind can be used for culinary purposes, the most effective way of obtaining its health benefits is in medicinal forms of consumption, where its properties are more concentrated.

Natural Forms

  • Raw. The pods of tamarind can be eaten fresh, mixed into smoothies, or be prepared into other medicinal preparations for the relieve of constipation.

  • Paste. When consumed as a paste, tamarind works best as a mild laxative because of its combination of nutrients and active compounds.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Liquid extract. Tamarind's extract works as a mild laxative because of its high concentration of tartaric, malic, and citric acids. 

  • Syrup. When consumed as a syrup, tamarind works to regulate cholesterol levels.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores, Local herbal store, Organic markets

Natural Forms

Raw tamarind can be found in some supermarkets, organic markets and specialized health stores. However, the most common way to purchase tamarind is as a paste.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Tamarind liquid extracts and syrups are readily available to be purchased in specialized health stores and through online retailers.

Tamarind is often found in markets specializing in Asian cuisine.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilMedium (loam), Saline soil
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral), 7.4 – 7.8 (Slightly alkaline)
  • Growing habitatSubtropical regions, Tropical rainforests
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F)), 10a (From −1.1 °C (30 °F) to +1.7 °C (35 °F)), 10b (From +1.7 °C (35 °F) to +4.4 °C (40 °F)), 11a (From +4.4 °C (40 °F) to +7.2 °C (45 °F)), 11b (From +7.2 °C (45 °F) to +10 °C (50 °F))
  • Potential insect pestsScale insects

Tamarind seeds need to be initially planted in a nursery before transplanted to the field or garden. Though tamarind has been adapted for growth in many different places and climates, it still requires tropical climate conditions with marked seasons in order to develop correctly.

Growing Guidelines

  • Tamarind will tolerate temperatures between 32 - 106°F (0 - 41°C), and will need between 20 - 60 inches (500 - 1,500 mm) of rainfall per year.

  • Regular irrigation is essential until the plantation is established, and tamarind will need weeding during the initial stages.

  • Like other members of the legume family, tamarind roots have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia, beneficial bacteria that fix nitrogen in the soil. For this reason, it can be advantageous to grow tamarind in depleted soils or alongside other crops, thus furthering sustainable practices.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesCleaning, Furniture/carpentry

Plant Biology

The tamarind tree is an evergreen that can grow 40 - 60 feet (12 - 18 m) high and just as wide. Tamarind produces fruits inside elongated pods. Its red or yellow flowers appear typically in the spring.

  • Classification

    Tamarind is a member of the Fabaceae or bean family, which contains over 19,400 species spread out over 730 genera, and includes many economically-important crops, such as soy (Glycine max), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), peas (Pisum sativum), chickpeas (Cicer arietinum)peanut (Arachis hypogaea), and alfalfa (Medicago sativa).

  • Cultivars of Tamarind

    There are some tamarind cultivars that taste sweeter than others. The most common type of sweet tamarind produced by the United States is known as the 'Manila Sweet', while the popular cultivar from Thailand is referred to as the 'Makham waan'. A number of areas regard fruits with reddish flesh as superior to those that come with the usual flesh-brown color.

Historical Information

Tamarind pulp was used in medicines by the ancient Arabians, and they were the ones who transferred the fruit across the Persian Gulf, where it began influencing cuisine in places such as Iran and Egypt. The earliest discovered reference to cultivated tamarind comes from the Indian Brahmasamhita scriptures, where it is mentioned that Egyptians were cultivating the fruit by at least 400 BCE. Its alimentary usage spread throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, and by the 17th century, tamarind had been introduced to the Americas.

Economic Data

The India and Mexico are currently the largest producers and consumers of tamarind. India alone produces 275,500 tons of tamarind annually. Commercial plantations of tamarind can be found throughout South America, and its cultivation has been introduced in the United States for commercial purposes.

Popular Beliefs

The subject of folklore, the tamarind tree is the subject of many different superstitions worldwide. Very few plants can survive under a tamarind tree. According to superstition, it is considered harmful to sleep under or to tie a horse under a tamarind tree.

Other Uses of Tamarind

  • Housekeeping. Tamarind is often kept as an ornamental plant, and tamarind pulp can be used to remove tarnish from brass and copper.

  • Carpentry. The wood from the tamarind tree is used in carpentry to make furniture and wood flooring of a bold red color.

Bibliography