Tamarind

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

Fact checked

By Samantha S. | Updated: Dec 06, 2019

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

Tamarind was first cultivated and consumed in Africa from where it spread across the world, becoming 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, tropical regions are its natural habitat.

Tamarind Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts
  • Medicinal actionHypotensive, Laxative
  • Key constituentsCitric, malic, and tartaric acids
  • Ways to useLiquid extracts, Food, Juiced, Syrup
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Tamarind

Tamarind properties have used medicinally for over 2,500 years, and modern research has corroborated its effectiveness for:

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

  • Lowering blood pressure. Research has shown that extracts of tamarind can lower blood pressure.

Additionally, some studies have suggested that tamarind extract may help lowering harmful cholesterol levels, thus preventing arteries from clogging. 

How It Works

Tamarind benefits can be attributed to its content of tartaric acid, malic acid, and citric acid, responsible for the famous laxative properties of this African fruit. The combined action of these acids helps lubricate the intestines, facilitating bowel movements.

Although its exact mechanisms of action are yet to be understood, tamarind fruit has been shown to lower blood pressure and is thought to reduce harmful cholesterol levels in the body.

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

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

Tamarin Side Effects

Tamarind fruit is likely safe for most people when taken by mouth. However, very little research has been done regarding its medicinal uses, so the potential side effects are unknown.

Cautions

While tamarind fruit is safe for most people, those who have diabetes should consume it with caution since it can lower blood sugar levels. Care must be taken when taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and tamarind, since this fruit may increase the absorption of the drug.1 It is also recommended that anyone who are scheduled for surgery 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.

Tamarind Nutrition

Did you know?

The lack of thiamin can cause depression and confusion, as well as heart's enlargement and slowing. Other symptoms of thiamin deficiency, also known as beriberi disease, are irritability, loss of appetite, weakness, coordination problems, calves' pain, and tingling sensation throughout the body.2

Tamarind provides a great deal of nutrients; however, it should be consumed in small amounts due to its laxative properties. The pulp of tamarind concentrates good amounts of dietary fiber as well as essential minerals, such as potassium, which help counteract the effects of sodium, lowering blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels; and iron, necessary for the production of red blood cells and for preventing anemia.

The fresh pulp of tamarind also contains all B complex vitamins, particularly high amounts of B1 (thiamin), which is essential for the metabolism of fats and protein as well as for promoting liver, skin, hair, and eyes health.

The nutritional profile of tamarind is rounded by smaller amounts of vitamin C along with minerals such as calcium, magnesium and copper.

An ounce of fresh tamarind pulp (28.35 g) provides about 68 calories as well as 6% of the recommended daily value for carbohydrates and dietary fiber.

How to Consume Tamarind

Quick Facts
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesColoring, Condiment
  • TasteTangy, Pungent

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

Natural Forms

  • Raw. Tamarind pods can be eaten fresh, mixed into smoothies, or  prepared into other medicinal preparations for the relief 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
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores, Local herbal store, Organic markets

Natural Forms

Raw tamarind pods 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.

In its culinary forms, the tamarind fruit is often found in Asian markets.

Growing

Quick Facts
  • 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 the tamarind plant 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

  • The tamarind tree 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 tamarind plant is established, and it 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
  • Other usesCleaning, Furniture/carpentry

Plant Biology

The tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica) 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

    Tamarindus indica 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

Tamarind 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.

Sources

Footnotes

1,2 George T. Grossberg, M.D., Barry Fox; The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide, Broadway Books, NY; 2008