Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) is a tree in the family Fabaceae. The genus Tamarindus is monotypic (having only a single species).
Contrary to common belief, Tamar Indicus is endemic to tropical Africa, particularly where it continues to grow wild in Sudan; it is also cultivated in Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania. It reached India likely through human transportation and cultivation several thousand years prior to the Common Era.
It was in India that it was first described by Western botanists as Tamarindus indica, the Latin derivative of the Persian and the Arabic name commonly attributed to it: "tamar al-Hind" or the Hindu [sic: Hindustani] date.
It is widely distributed throughout the Tropical belt, from Africa to India, and throughout South East Asia, Taiwan and as far as China.
In the 16th century, it was heavily introduced to Mexico as well as South America by Spanish and Portuguese colonists, to the degree that it became a common ingredient in everyday living.
The tamarind is a long-lived, medium-growth bushy tree which attains a maximum crown height of 12.1 to 18.3 metres (40 to 60 feet). The crown has irregular vase-shaped outline of dense foliage.
Leaves are evergreen, bright green in colour, elliptical ovular, arrangement is alternate, of the pinnately compound type, with pinnate venation and less than 5 cm in length. The branches droop from a single, central trunk as the tree matures and is often pruned in human agriculture to optimize tree density and ease of fruit harvest. At night, the leaflets close up.
The tamarind does flower, though inconspicuously, with red and yellow elongated flowers. Flowers are 2.5 cm wide (one inch) five-petalled borne in small racemes, yellow with orange or red streaks. Buds are pink due as the 4 sepals are pink and are lost when the flower blooms.
The tree grows well in full sun in clay, loam, sandy and acidic soil types, with a high drought and aerosol salt (wind-borne salt as found in coastal area) resistance.
The fruit of the tamarind is most commonly reserved for consumption, whether raw or cooked or prepared in some other manner, according to the regional and cultural palate. The fruit itself is an elongated-rod, 12 to 15 cm in length, and covered in a hard, brown exterior.
The fleshy, juicy, acidulous pulp of the fruit is mature when coloured brown or reddish-brown. The fruit is considered ripe when the pods are easily pried open with fingers. The fruit pod contains anywhere between 1 and 12 flat, glossy brown seeds. These may be used by children in traditional board games such as Chinese checkers (China), dakon (Java), among others.
Seeds can be scarified to enhance germination. They retain germination capability after several months kept dry.
The tamarind is best described as sweet and sour in taste, and high in acid, sugar, vitamin B and interestingly for a fruit, calcium.
The tamarinds of India fruit with longer pods containing 6-12 seeds, whereas African and West Indian versions have short pods containing 1-6 seeds. Fruit of the South American tamarinds are identical to the original African variant.
As a tropical species, it is frost sensitive. The pinnate leaves with opposite leaflets giving a billowing effect in the wind. Tamarind timber consists of hard, dark red heartwood and softer, yellowish sapwood.
Tamarind is harvested by pulling the pod from its stalk. A mature tree may be capable of producing upto 175 kg of fruit per annum. Veneer grafting, shield (T or inverted T) budding, and air layering may be used to propagate desirable selections. Such trees will usually fruit within 3 to 4 years if provided optimum growing conditions.
Alternative names for tamarind include Imli, Indian date, translation of Turkish language "Demirhindi" Arabic tamr hindi.
Globally, it is most numerous in India, where it is widely distributed and has a long history of human cultivation. Many Indian regional languages have their own unique name for the tamarind fruit. In Oriya it is called tentuli; in Bengali the tentul; Hindi and in Urdu imli; Gujarati the amli. and Marathi and Konkani the chinch. In Sinhala call it the siyambala; Telugu chintachettu (tree) and chintapandu (fruit extract); Tamil and Malayalam the puli and in Kannada it is called hunase and in Cook Islands Maori is called 'tamarene'
In Indonesia, tamarind is known as the asam (or asem) Jawa (means Javanese asam), which in the Indonesian language, translates as Javanese sour [sic: fruit] (though the literature may also refer to it as sambaya). In Malaysia, it is called asam in the Javanese-influenced Malay language of Melayu (modern Central Sumatra). In the Philippines, tamarind is referred to as sampaloc, which is occasionally rendered as sambalog in Tagalog and sambag in Cebuano.
Vietnamese term is me. In Taiwan it is called loan-tz. In Myanmar it is called magee-bin (tree) and magee-thee (fruit).The tamarind is the provincial tree of the Phetchabun province of Thailand (in Thailand it is called ma-kham). In Malagasy it is called voamadilo and kily.
In Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela it is called tamarindo. In the Caribbean, tamarind is sometimes called tamon.
Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) should not be confused with the Manila tamarind (Pithecellobium dulce), which is a different plant, though also of Fabaceae.
Although native to Sudan and tropical Africa, India is the single largest consumer and commercial producer of tamarind.
In India there are extensive tamarind orchards producing 275,500 tons annually. The pulp is marketed in northern Malaya.
The tamarind has also long been naturalized in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines and the Pacific Islands. Thailand has the largest plantations of the ASEAN nations, followed by Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines
One of the first tamarind trees in Hawaii was planted in 1797.
The tamarind was introduced into tropical America, mainly Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the West Indies by either Portuguese or Spanish colonists or perhaps by African slaves or seamen much earlier, in the 1600s CE.
In the United States, it is a large-scale commercial crop common (second in net production quantity to India) in the mainly Southern states due to tropical and semi-tropical climes notably South Florida, and as a shade and fruit tree, along roadsides and in dooryards and parks.
There are large commercial plantations in Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico .
The fruit pulp is edible and popular. The hard green pulp of a young fruit is considered by many to be too sour and acidic, but is often used as a component of savory dishes, as a pickling agent or as a means of making certain poisonous yams in Ghana safe for human consumption.
The ripened fruit is considered the more palatable as it becomes sweeter and less sour (acidic) as it matures. It is used in desserts as a jam, blended into juices or sweetened drinks, sorbets, ice-creams and all manner of snack. It is also consumed as a natural laxative.
In Western cuisine it is found in Worcestershire sauce; HP sauce; and the Jamaican-produced Pickapeppa sauce.
In Indian cuisine it is common. Imli Chutney and Pulusu use it. Along with tamarind, sugar and spices are added to (regional) taste for chutneys or a multitude of condiments for a bitter-sweet flavor. The immature pods and flowers are also pickled and used as a side dish. Regional cuisines such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh use it to make Rasam, Sambhar, Vatha Kuzhambu and Puliyogare.
In Guadeloupe, tamarind is known as Tamarinier and is used in jams and syrups.
In Mexico, it is sold in various snack forms: dried and salted; or candied (see for example pulparindo or chamoy snacks).
The famous agua fresca beverage, iced fruit-bars and raspados all use it as the main ingredient. In the US, Mexican immigrants have fashioned the "agua de tamarindo" drink and many other treats. Tamarind snacks such as Mexico's Pelon Pelo Rico, are available in specialty food stores worldwide in pod form or as a paste or concentrate.
In Egypt, a sour, chilled drink made from tamarind is popular during the summer.
A traditional food plant in Africa, tamarind has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.
In southern Kenya, the Swahili people use it to garnish legumes and also make juices.
In Madagascar, its fruits and leaves are a well-known favorite of the Ring-tailed Lemurs, providing as much as 50% of their food resources during the year if available.
In Northern Nigeria, it is used with millet powder to prepare Kunun Tsamiya, a traditional Pap mostly used as breakfast, and usually eaten with bean cake.
The Javanese dish gurame and more so ikan asem, also known as ikan asam (sweet and sour fish (commonly a carp or river-fish) is popular throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Tamarind is also common in Manado, Sulawesi and Maluku cuisines.
In Myanmar, young and tender leaves and flower buds are eaten as a vegetable. A salad dish of tamarind leaves, boiled beans, and crushed peanuts topped with crispy fried onions is very popular in rural Myanmar.
In the Philippines, tamarind is used in foods like sinigang soup, and also made into candies. The leaves are also used in sinampalukan soup.
In Thailand a specific cultivar has been bred specifically to be eaten as a fresh fruit, famous for being particular sweet and minimally sour. It is also sometimes eaten preserved in sugar with chili as a sweet-and-spicy candy.
Pad Thai, a Thai dish popular with Westerners often include tamarind for its tart/sweet taste (with lime juice added for sourness and fish sauce added for saltiness). A tamarind-based sweet-and-sour sauce served over deep-fried fish is also a common dish in central Thailand.
Phytochemical studies revealed the presence of tannins, saponins, sesquiterpenes, alkaloids and phlobatamins and other extracts active against both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, between temperature ranges of 4 degrees Celsius and 30 degrees celsius. Studies on the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimum bactericidal concentration (MBC) of the extracts on the test organisms showed that the lowest MIC and the MBC were demonstrated against Salmonella paratyphi, Bacillus subtilis and Salmonella typhi and the highest MIC and MBC was exhibited against Staphylococcus aureus.
Throughout Asia and Africa it is common for health remedies. In Northern Nigeria, fresh stem bark and fresh leaves are used as decoction mixed with potash for the treatment of stomach disorder, general body pain, jaundice, yellow fever and as blood tonic and skin cleanser.
In Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines and Javanese traditional medicine use asem leaves as a herbal infusion for malarial fever, the fruit juice as an anti-septic, and scurvy and even cough cure. Fruit of the tamarind is also commonly used throughout South East Asia as a poultice applied to foreheads of fever sufferers.
Tamarind is used as in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine for gastric and/or digestion problems,and in cardioprotective activity.
In animal studies, tamarind has been found to lower serum cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Due to a lack of available human clinical trials, there is insufficient evidence to recommend tamarind for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) or diabetes.
Based on human study, tamarind intake may delay the progression of fluorosis by enhancing excretion of fluoride. However, additional research is needed to confirm these results.
Excess consumption has been noted as a traditional laxative.
Other medicinal uses include:
Anthelminthic (expels worms), antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, asthma, astringent, bacterial skin infections (erysipelas), boils, chest pain, cholesterol metabolism disorders, colds, colic, conjunctivitis (pink eye), constipation (chronic or acute), diabetes, diarrhea (chronic), dry eyes, dysentery (severe diarrhea), eye inflammation, fever, food preservative, food uses (coloring), gallbladder disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, gingivitis, hemorrhoids, indigestion, insecticide, jaundice, keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), leprosy, liver disorders, nausea and vomiting (pregnancy-related), paralysis, poisoning (Datura plant), rash, rheumatism, saliva production, skin disinfectant/sterilization, sore throat, sores, sprains, sunscreen, sunstroke, swelling (joints), urinary stones, wound healing (corneal epithelium).
In temples, especially in Buddhist Asian countries, the fruit pulp is used to polish brass shrine furniture, removing dulling and the greenish patina that forms.
The wood is a bold red color. Due to its density and durability, tamarind heartwood can be used in making furniture and wood flooring. A tamarind switch is sometimes used as an implement for corporal punishment.
Tamarind trees are very common in throughout all Asia and indeed tropical world as both an ornamental, garden and cash-crop.
The tamarind has recently become popular in bonsai culture, frequently used in Asian countries like Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines. In the last Japan Airlines World Bonsai competition, Mr. Budi Sulistyo of Indonesia won the second prize with an ancient tamarind bonsai.
The tamarind tree is the official plant of Santa Clara, Cuba. Consequently it appears in the coat of arms of the city.
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California Rare Fruit Growers: Tamarind Fruit Facts
Tamarindus indica'' in Brunken, U., Schmidt, M., Dressler, S., Janssen, T., Thiombiano, A. & Zizka, G. 2008. West African plants - A Photo Guide. www.westafricanplants.senckenberg.de.
How to eat Tamarind, with step-by-step pics
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