Everything You Need to Know before Cooking with Tamarind
Why is tamarind sour? Is tamarind a nut, or maybe a legume? Tamarind is so complex and so little known that it can be hard to even recognise it, let alone decide how to use it in cooking. Today The Indian Rose will help you demystifying tamarind by answering to lots of question regarding the nature, taste and use of tamarind. We will discover: is tamarind a legume? Or a spice? Or a fruit? Is tamarind a monocot or dicot? Is tamarind sweet or sour? Why is tamarind sour? Is tamarind acidic or alkaline? Plus, we’ll see a secret use for tamarind in the household! So, let’s get started!
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Introduction: What Is Tamarind
Tamarind is a hardwood tree originating in Africa, and probably brought to the Indian subcontinent by Arab merchants. Its biological name is Tamarindus indica.
The tamarind plant produces brown pods containing some large seeds and a delicious pulp. Tamarind pods are irregularly shaped, curved beans, somewhat similar to carob. When the fruit is not mature, the pulp is green and the seeds white. As tamarind pods mature, the pulp becomes brown, sometimes with a touch of red, and more sticky in consistency. The pulp is the most used product of the tamarind tree, especially for cooking. The leaves are also sometimes used in Indian cuisine, while oil can be extracted from its seeds.
The etymology of the word tamarind, which comes from Arabic, is: tamar, meaning date and hindi, meaning Indian.
Tamarind is not only used in the Indian subcontinent, but also in Latin America, especially Mexico, and in Africa and southeast Asia. It is common in tropical climates.
The uses of tamarind range from cooking to medicine to cleaning.
This is what tamarind is, but let’s get more specific… is tamarind a fruit? Is tamarind acidic? And why is tamarind sour?
Is Tamarind a Fruit? Or Is Tamarind a Spice? Or maybe a Nut or Legume?
First things first:
Is tamarind a legume?
Yes, tamarind is a legume. Are you shocked? Well, peanuts are legumes too! To be more specific, the tamarind tree is part of the Fabaceae family of leguminous plants. The pods of the tamarind tree are legumes, and do not open naturally when mature.
As we said, tamarind is a legume, and so is peanuts, so if you have peanuts allergy you might be allergic to tamarind too.
Is tamarind a fruit?
Well, technically we can also say that tamarind is a fruit. Or better, the pods of the tamarind tree are its fruits, which are legumes. Confused? Just think of fruit as any edible product containing seeds coming from a tree. Tamarind is a fruit, but a legume fruit.
Is tamarind a spice?
Tamarind can also be considered a spice. In fact, in the Cambridge online dictionary, a spice is “a substance made from a plant, used to give a special flavour to food”. So, tamarind is a legume used as a spice. It is a spice made from a legume. Tamarind is a sour spice, as we will see in why is tamarind sour.
Is tamarind a nut?
Despite tamarind’s resemblance to a nut, like peanuts, tamarind is not a true nut tree, but a leguminous tree. So, no, tamarind is technically not a nut.
Is tamarind a monocot or dicot?
Another technical question you might wonder about is if tamarind is a monocot or dicot. Tamarind is a dicot, as like most legumes, it has 2 embryonic seed leaves.
Is tamarind acidic or alkaline?
Tamarind is acidic, but only weakly acidic. Its acidic nature is due to tartaric acid content (IUPAC-2,3-dihydroxybutanedioic acid).
Now we know that tamarind is, strictly speaking, a legume, but also a fruit and a spice. Let’s see what forms of tamarind we can use, and why is tamarind sour.
Forms of Tamarind
Tamarind can come in many forms:
- Pods: you can buy raw pods of tamarind in many Asian and Latin American countries, or in Asian food stores all over the world. These are the unprocessed pods of the tamarind plant, they need to be opened to get the pulp.
- Block: the seeds and shell are removed and the pulp is pressed. It is quicker to use as it is pure pulp.
- Concentrate: this is the pulp of the tamarind pod boiled and reduced in water, often with preservatives. They might also contain colorants and sweeteners. It is basically a processed product.
- Tamarind syrup: only used for sweets and beverages, often processed.
- Tamarind seed oil: extracted from tamarind seeds, has lots of benefits.
- Tamarind leaves: especially used to flavour Telegu dishes.
After we gave you so much knowledge of what is tamarind and forms of tamarind, you might now wonder how tamarind tastes like and why is tamarind sour, so let’s discover it!
Tamarind Taste: What Does Tamarind Taste Like?
People describe tamarind as sour, but there is more to it. It can be sour, sweet and spicy all together!
Is tamarind sweet or sour?
Tamarind can be sweet and sour, or only sour. In fact, young tamarind pulp, meaning not mature, is super sour and not at all sweet. As the pod matures, the pulp becomes sweeter, still retaining a sour flavour. The pods can be picked at different stages depending on what level of sweetness and sourness is needed.
Tamarind pulp can generally be defined as either sour, when young, or sweet and sour, when mature. Shortly we will see why is tamarind sour.
Difference between sweet tamarind and sour tamarind
The difference between sweet tamarind and sour tamarind lies in the maturness of the tamarind pod. Sour tamarind is young, sweet tamarind is mature. Even sweet tamarind however has a distinctive sour taste, more sweet and sour than sweet.
If a package of tamarind pods is labelled as sweet, it either means that it is mature, thus sweet and sour, or that it is a specific kind of Thai tamarind, also a bit sour but much sweeter than regular one.
Why is tamarind sour?
Tartaric acid, an antioxidant, is the reason why tamarind is sour. Tartaric acid is also present in grapes and bananas, but not in citrus fruits. That’s why the sourness of tamarind is different from the sourness of lemons and limes, it is not as bitter as them.
Factors to consider regarding why is tamarind sour:
Immature tamarind pulp (from a young pod) is sourer than mature tamarind
The pulp of dried pods is sourer than that of fresh pods. Since most of us eat pulp from dry pods, we do not know that freshly picked tamarind is less sour.
This is why tamarind is sour!
Why is tamarind sweet?
After establishing why is tamarind sour, let’s see why it is sweet.
Tamarind is sweet only when it is ripe. In fact, as the pod matures, it develops natural sugars which are very similar to those of fresh fruit, not added sugars.
Factors to consider regarding why is tamarind is sweet:
There is a specific kind of tamarind coming from the Phetchabun region of Thailand which is much sweeter than the rest.
Some processed tamarind products contain added sugars, that’s why they are so sweet!
Why is tamarind spicy?
Tamarind is spicy because the fruit has a very strong flavour, enhanced by its sourness. However, tamarind is not hot, it is spicy in a fruity way, not a hot way.
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Now you really know everything about tamarind: is tamarind a fruit, is tamarind acidic, why is tamarind sour… you’ve got it all! Let’s close with a curiosity!
Why Is Tamarind Used to Clean Copper Vessels?
Yes, you heard that right! Tamarind is used to clean copper vessels! In many Buddhist countries, tamarind pulp is used to clean statues and utensils.
In fact, copper can change color when it encounters carbon dioxide. The tartaric acid contained in tamarind (the one we talked about in why is tamarind sour) removes the color coat and makes copper get back to its original color. Basically, tamarind is used to clean copper vessels because tartaric acid removes tarnish.
You can use block pressed tamarind directly on the copper vessel, or add some water and salt.
Now you are an expert on tamarind! If, after learning “is tamarind a fruit” and “why is tamarind sour” you still have doubts, let us know in the comments section below!