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Have you ever wondered what those pod things were at the Asian or Mexican market? Wonder no more. Today, let me share what I learned about tamarindo.
The Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) tree is not a plant native to Mexico, but was brought by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century and has since become an integral part of Mexican cuisine and traditional medicine. It’s a slow-growing, long-lived tree that can be 80-100 feet tall with a trunk circumference up to 25 feet. The evergreen feathery foliage is made up of pinnate leaves that fold up at night. It has small 5-petalled yellow flowers with orange or red streaks. The flower buds are pink. It takes 80 to 90 years for a tamarind tree to begin producing fruit. The fruits are green pods or beans that ripen to a cinnamon brown color. The outer covering becomes brittle and the pulp within dries to a sticky paste. The fruit begins to dehydrate in 203 days and reaches full ripeness in 245 days. The fruit can be left on the tree for as long as 6 months after full ripening. (Morton, J. 1987. Tamarind. p. 115–121. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.)
Tamarindo fruit is high in tartaric acid, sugar, B vitamins, calcium, thiamin, iron, magnesium, niacin, vitamin C, copper, and pyridoxine. Other antioxidants found in the tamarindo include limonene, geranoil (shown to inhibit cancerous pancreatic growth), safrole, cinnamic acid, methyl salicylate, pyrazine, alkylthiazoles. Its high content of malic acid, tartaric acid, and potassium bitartrate make it an excellent treatment for constipation, which you may want to remember should you be tempted to eat large quantities.
Tamarindo has also been used traditionally as a treatment for stomach discomfort, diarrhea, parasitic infections, dysentery, helminth infections, malaria cell cytotoxicity, used as a gargle for sore throats, mixed with salt and made into a liniment for rheumatism and arthritic inflammation. It’s been used for Datura poisoning, alcoholic intoxication, liver toxicity, and sunstroke. It has also been recommended as a daily drink for those suffering from thyroid disorders and as a way of fluoride detoxification. The dried or boiled leaves and flowers can be made into poultices for swollen joints, sprains, boils, hemorrhoids, gonorrhea and conjunctivitis. The roots and bark are boiled in an infusion for chest complaints and as an ingredient in treating leprosy. In one study, the seeds have shown improve glucose homeostasis in rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes mellitus, which may lead to further studies as a treatment for diabetes in humans. In another study, the bark has been shown to possess blood glucose lowering effect along with antioxidant effect and protective effect on renal complications associated with hyperglycemia. In yet another study of hens fed tamarindo as part of their daily diet, it has been linked to lower cholesterol in the hens’ serum and egg yolks leading to the speculation that similar results could be obtained in humans. (Top 15 Health Benefits of Tamarind and 30 Health Benefits Of Tamarind and 7 Amazing Benefits Of Tamarind) I could go on and on as to the health benefits, but I think you get the picture.
Are there any safety concerns about tamarindo? Yes, there are. As I outlined above, the ingestion of tamarindo has definite effects on the body. If you have certain conditions, tamarindo may make your condition worse.
As it lowers blood pressure, it may increase bleeding when taken with aspirin, ibuprofen, blood thinners, and anti-platelet drugs. As its ingestion reduces serum glucose levels, diabetics who are already taking drugs for lowering their blood sugar level should be careful to not eat too much. As with any food, you may have an allergic reaction. Excessive quantities of tamarind may damage the enamel of your teeth. Frequent ingestion of huge amounts of tamarind can promote the formation of gallbladder stones. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or ‘acid reflux’, you should stay away from it since it will probably increase the acid in your stomach. If you are taking any sort of vasoconstrictor you need to know that tamarindo is known to add to the vasoconstricting effects by accelerating the process of narrowing of the blood vessels. If you are using any ophthalmic antibiotic on your eyes topically, avoid tamarind intake as it will interact with the cream. (Top 10 Side Effects Of Tamarind) So moderation is the key.
So how do you eat it? Maybe the correct question is how don’t you eat it? The fruit can be eaten raw right off the tree. Wherever you go here in Mexico, you can find tamarindo candy dipped in chile, tamarindo balls, tamarindo candy that comes out of its containers like a playdoh barber shop toy, tamarindo fruit roll-ups, tamarindo juice, tamarindo soda, tamarindo Tang, tamarindo salsa, tamarindo on a plastic spoon, tamarindo margaritas, tamarindo lollipops, tamarindo marinade, tamarindo gummies, tamarindo nectar, tamarindo popsicles, tamarindo hard candy, tamarindo soup, and many more delightful and savory uses. (Recetas de Tamarindo). Would you believe that it’s also found in good ol’ Worcestershire sauce?
Although I can get agua de tamarindo from the same tricycle market vendors that sell jamaica and horchata, I thought I’d try and make my own. Here’s how that went.
I picked up some dried pods at the market. Then I cracked and peeled them. Because of the stickiness factor, it was a bit more difficult than peeling a boiled egg. I soaked them in water for about an hour. When the pulp was soft, I removed the seeds and mashed the pulp with my fingers. That part didn’t take very long. After that, I added more water and strained the concoction to remove any large lumps and fibers. Add sugar to taste and ice and it’s ready, the perfect refreshing summertime drink!
I kept the seeds and have planted them. I’d surely like my own tamarindo producing tree (in 80 or 90 years)!
Tamarindo has other uses as well. Tamarind lumber is used to make furniture and carvings. The fruit pulp is used to polish brass statues and lamps, and remove the tarnish from copper, brass, and bronze items.
The word itself also has some distinctly Mexican uses as well. Tamarindo is sometimes used to insult los transitos (traffic police) probably first begun as a commentary about their brown uniforms. My husband has also said that among hombres (men) tamarindo can be used to imply someone is stupid or an a**hole. So perhaps it’s not a word you can throw around lightly in some parts however delicious the fruit!