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The tamarind is a medium-sized, fruit-bearing bushy tree that thrives in several places, chiefly in Africa, Asia, Arabia and India, where it is employed for various purposes. Although believed to have originated in the African region (where it continues to thrive to this day) the tamarind tree also flourishes in areas outside of its original environment, chiefly due to introduction of the plant via trade and commerce or (rarely) via natural means. Despite seeming to be obscure, tamarind is quite a popular plant, and its diverse range can perhaps be attributed to this very same popularity.

Tamarind - Background and History

Tamarind is grown for a variety of purposes, although the chief purpose seems to be for food, as the tamarind's fruit (which also bears the same name, although it is sometimes referred to as the 'Indian date') is used in many cultures as either a type of 'spice', an aperitif, a dessert, or as a condiment. Aside from its general use as a foodstuff, tamarind is also employed for medicinal and practical purposes, although the latter employment has significantly dwindled in modern times.

The tamarind plant is characterised by broad, light green leaves and large, all-encompassing branches that are thick at the base and which progressively thin out towards the apex where the leaves grow on the stems. Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the tamarind plant is its uniquely shaped fruit, which is pale-green to lemon green in hue while unripe, but darkens to a fleshy brown bordering to a mahogany shade upon ripening. The tamarind's fruit actually resembles a pea pod, containing any number of seeds coated with a thick, fleshy paste which can be processed, cooked, and consumed as a foodstuff. [1]

Tamarind - General Herbal Uses

The primary use employed for the tamarind plant (more specifically, its fruit) is as a condiment for cooking. Because of its astringent nature and sour taste, the whole 'pods' of the tamarind plant is often gathered and dried, later to be employed as a type of spice integrated into soup-based dishes. This practice is common in the Philippines, where its pods (colloquially referred to as 'sampalok') feature as a major ingredient in sour, fish or chicken-based soups and stews. [1] While the mature pods are often best employed, some regional variations of Filipino sour stews or soups typically call for the use of the more acidic immature pods. Aside from being a cooking spice, it (the immature pods) was also employed at one time as a type of pickling agent for preserving vegetables and fruits.

In the Philippines, as in many other cultures, the ripe pods are often broken in order to extract the fleshy seeds, which are then processed and made into a variety of sweetmeats, or otherwise incorporated into savoury dishes, or employed yet again as a natural preservative agent for pickling or curing fruits, vegetables, and even meat. In some areas such as Ghana, the essence of the tamarind seeds imbued in the flesh has been traditionally used to neutralise the toxins found in some species of yam that grows in the area, and which are a staple food that would otherwise be inedible without the neutralisation brought about by the tamarind plant. [2]

In Western cuisine, the sour flesh of the tamarind is even integrated into the famous Worcestershire sauce beloved by so many barbeque enthusiasts. Tamarind also features highly in Indian cuisine, both as a spice, and as a type of condiment or dessert. Beverages, and even liquors sometimes integrate tamarind into their recipes, as is common in Mexico, Brazil, and many other Spanish-influenced areas. [2]

Due to the acidic nature of the tamarind's flesh, it is also traditionally employed as a natural polish for holy statuary, as is commonly practiced in Tibetan (and some Hindu) monasteries. The fresh pulp, usually smeared unto a cloth, is used to wipe away the patina that builds up on copper and bronze objects overtime, rendering it free from tarnish to which it can then be burnished to a luxurious lustre afterwards, also with the same polishing component (usually with the addition of very fine, gentle natural abrasives) . [3]

As a foodstuff, tamarind contains a slew of beneficial vitamins, trace minerals, and a few phytonutrients as to make this snack food a healthy addition to anyone's diet. When made into snacks, raw tamarind flesh is usually rendered into a paste and cooked over high heat in clay or copper vessels, to which a significant amount of sugar, jaggery, or honey is added, the whole of which is then rolled into tiny balls and dusted liberally with sugar (as is common in the Philippines) or (in Vietnam and Korea) chili or turmeric powder. [4] In Ayruvedic medicine, the fruit of the tamarind is said to be beneficial to the digestion and proper absorption of nutrients. The same belief is held in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Filipino folk medicine, where it is usually given as a digestif prior to, and after the consumption of large (often heavily meat-based) dishes. Tamarind is also believed to be helpful for individuals who suffer from diabetes, as it is said that it regulates blood sugar levels owing to its sour nature. [5]

Medicinally, the fruit, leaves, bark, and sometimes even the root of the plant have their own distinct uses, although the most commonly employed plant parts for medicinal purposes are the fruit (the fruit proper, and the fleshy pulp), the leaves, and the bark of the tamarind tree.

The fruit, as was mentioned previously, acts as a sort of digestif that helps to aid in digestion and in the proper assimilation of nutrients. Further medicinal uses for the fruit involve its being extracted for its juices, which can then be sweetened and employed as a rudimentary cough syrup, and as a quick remedy for sore throats and hoarseness of voice (usually combined with lemon or orange rind, ginger root, and honey for better efficiency) . [6] When applied topically, the juice of the tamarind can be employed as a quick antiseptic to sterilise minor cuts, while a paste of tamarind combined with ginger root can be employed as a poultice for open wounds, to help facilitate in faster healing and to prevent infection. When applied to the forehead and the lymph nodes, this poultice is also said to be a febrifuge, and is a time-tested remedy employed by many Southeast Asian cultures. [6] The somewhat regular (if not downright copious) consumption of tamarind as a common snack food is often due to the belief that the high acidic content of the fruit helps to prevent scurvy. Some medicinal studies have even pointed out that a regular (albeit moderated) consumption of tamarind fruit may have cardioprotective properties, alongside the possible capacity of the fruit's active compounds to delay (if not prevent) the progression of skeletal fluorosis and osteoporosis in both young individuals and adults.

Aside from the fruit, the leaves and bark of the tamarind may be employed medicinally, typically as astringents, febrifuges, laxatives, and emenagogues. The leaves and bark are often combined and made into a decoction to treat dysmenorrhea, yellow fever, jaundice, and general aches and pains. Both the leaves and bark of the tamarind may be employed as a general topical antihistaminic substance when dried and left to macerate in a base oil, or when otherwise infused via a slow heat into the oil of choice, although more often than not, it is the bark of the plant which is chosen for the creation of such ointments. [7]

Other, more practical uses for tamarind usually involves the employment of its wood as material for carving, statuary, furnishings, flooring, and fuel. The whole plant is even used as an ornamental garden plant, or as starter plants for the creation of bonsais. The tamarind tree may also house a type of insect which deposits an organically produced resin into the wood, which can often be harvested and employed for the creation of high-quality lacquer. [7]

Tamarind - Scientific Studies and Research

Tamarind (Tamarindus indicus) is traditionally used in India, Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and other tropical countries as among the therapeutic measures to manage abdominal pain, diarrhea and dysentery, helminth infections, wound healing, malaria and fever, constipation, inflammation, cell cytotoxicity, gonorrhea, and eye diseases. [8]

Tamarind exerts significant broad-spectrum antibacterial activity and has been generally used in the treatment of cuts, wounds, and abscesses. The preliminary finding of Muthu, Nandakumar, and Rao from their study demonstrated that the methanol leaf extract derived from tamarind exhibits antibacterial activity against Burkholderia pseudomallei under in vitro conditions starting at disc concentrations 150 mug and at minimum bactericidal concentration of 125 mug/mL. [9] B. pseudomallei is a Gram-negative bacillus that is responsible for the occurrence of melioidosis, an infectious disease associated with symptoms related to an alteration in the immune status. [10]

A randomized controlled trial consisting of thirty subjects residing in an endemic fluorotic area explored the effects of tamarind on ingestion and mobilization of fluoride from the bone. The study was conducted after a significant reduction in urinary fluoride expression was achieved upon the provision of defluoridated water, after which two groups consisting of fifteen subjects each were formed. Study results had revealed a significant increase in fluoride (p < 0.01) excretion and urinary pH and a significant decrease in urinary calcium (p < 0.01) and copper (p < 0.05) excretion in the experimental group, leading the researchers to conclude that tamarind consumption has an effect on the mobilization of deposited fluoride from the bone through a mechanism that enhances urinary fluoride excretion. [11] Another randomized, diet-control study by Khandare, Rao, and Lakshmaiah (2002) similarly investigated the effect of tamarind intake on fluoride excretion in schoolchildren, this time including 18 subjects who were asked to consume 10 g of tamarind daily with lunch for 18 days. Khandare, Rao, and Lakshmaiah (2002) found the same results as that of the randomized trial mentioned earlier: tamarind intake enhances urinary fluoride excretion (4.8+/-0.22 mg/day; p < 0.001) and consequently helps delay fluorosis progression. [12]

Tamarind seed extract has also been evaluated for its efficacy against snake venom. Ushanandini et al. (2006) reported the dose-dependent inhibitory activity of tamarind seed extract against phospholipase A2, protease, hyaluronidase, L-amino acid oxidase, and 5'-nucleotidase, the major hydrolytic enzymes in Vipera russelli venom causing the early effects of envenomation, such as local tissue damage, inflammation, and hypotension. Tamarind seed extract has been noted to neutralize the degradation of the fl chain of human fibrinogen and the indirect hemolysis associated with the snake venom, prolonging to some extent the clotting time. [13]

Tamarind extract's potential to diminish the risk of atherosclerosis development in humans has been investigated too. Martinello et al. (2006) used in their study the crude extract from the tamarind pulp and assessed the effect of the extract on lipid serum levels, early atherosclerotic lesions in vivo, and its antioxidant action in vitro in hypercholesterolemic hamsters. Tamarind pulp extract treatment resulted in a significant decrease in the levels of serum total cholesterol (50%), non-high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (73%), and triglyceride (60%) but an increase in HDL cholesterol levels (61%); a decrease in lipid peroxidation in serum; and an improved efficiency of the antioxidant defense system. [14]

Active Ingredients

The seeds of tamarind comprise 63% starch, 16% protein, and 5.5% fat, while its pod pulp, the wellknown part of tamarind constituting around 40% of the pod, is a rich source of vitamin C; tartaric, malic, and citric acids; and sugars, giving the fruit its distinct sweet-sour flavor. [15] Tartaric acid is notably most abundant in the fruit pulp of tamarind such that the fruit is considered the richest known natural source of tartaric acid (8 to 18%) today. [16] Amoo and Atasie (2012) recently analyzed and investigated through standard methods the proximate mineral and carbohydrate content as well as the functional properties of tamarind pulp and identified the following significant nutritional values: protein content, 7.64%; crude fat content, 1.03%; carbohydrate content, 56%; and iron content, 27.36 mg/100g. [17]

The seeds of tamarind contain several phenolic compounds. Sudjaroen et al. (2005) identified and enumerated the chemical constituents of tamarind pericarp: proanthocyanidins, taxifolin, apigenin, eriodictyol, luteolin, and naringenin. [18]

Tamarind - Esoteric Uses

In traditional folkloric magick, tamarinds are usually associated with protection, wisdom, and primordial energies. It is said that one should not sleep or tie a horse beneath the shade of a tamarind tree. In Malaysia, the fruit of the tamarind, when mixed with coconut milk, is often fed to young infants to imbue them with strength and wisdom, while the fruit-proper is given to young elephants in the belief that it increases their wisdom twofold. [7]

Names of Tamarind, past and present

Sanskrit: tintidi / aamlika
Bengali: tetul
Hindi: imli
Malayalam: vaalanpuli
Filipino: sampalok / sambagin / sambalog
Sinhala: siyambala
Arabic: tamar Hind / demir Hindi
English: tamarind / sweet tamarind / Indian date
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Tamarindus indica

Tamarind - References & Further Reading








[8] Bhadoriya S. S., Ganeshpurkar A., Narwaria J., Rai G., & Jain A. P. (2011). Tamarindus indica: Extent of explored potential. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 5(9): 73-81. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.79102. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[9] Muthu S. E., Nandakumar S., & Rao U. A. (2005). The effect of methanolic extract of Tamarindus indica Linn. on the growth of clinical isolates of Burkholderia pseudomallei. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 122(6): 525-528. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[10] Peacock S. J. (2008). Management of Accidental Laboratory Exposure to Burkholderia pseudomallei and B. mallei. Emerging Infectious Disease, 14(7): e2. doi: 10.3201/eid1407.071501. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[11] Khandare A. L., Kumar P. U., Shanker R. G., Venkaiah K., & Lakshmaiah N. (2004). Additional beneficial effect of tamarind ingestion over defluoridated water supply to adolescent boys in a fluorotic area. Nutrition, 20(5): 433-436. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[12] Khandare A. L., Rao G. S., & Lakshmaiah N. (2002). Effect of tamarind ingestion on fluoride excretion in humans. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 56(1): 82-85. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[13] Ushanandini S. et al. (2006). The anti-snake venom properties of Tamarindus indica (leguminosae) seed extract. Phytotherapy Research, 20(10): 851-858. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[14] Martinello F. et al. (2006). Hypolipemic and antioxidant activities from Tamarindus indica L. pulp fruit extract in hypercholesterolemic hamsters. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 44(6): 810-818. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[15] Tamarindus indica (Tamarind). Brief summary. Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[16] Shankaracharya, N. B. (1998). Tamarind - Chemistry, technology and uses - A critical appraisal. Journal of Food Science and Technology-Mysore, 35(3): 193-208. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[17] Amoo, I. A. & Nkechi, A. V. (2012). Nutritional and functional properties of Tamarindus indica pulp and Zizyphus spina-christi fruit and seed. Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment, 10(1): 16-19. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

[18] Sudjaroen Y. et al. (2005).Isolation and structure elucidation of phenolic antioxidants from Tamarind (Tamarindus indica L.) seeds and pericarp. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 43(11): 1673-1682. Retrieved 14 March 2013 from

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, scientific studies by Dan Ablir. © 2013

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