[Indian Date; Tamarindo (spanish); Asam (malay), Asem Jawa (Indonesia); Imli, Amli, Chinch (India); Ma-kahm (Thai); Me (Viet); Puli (Tamil, Malay); Tamarindus indica]
Native to tropical Africa and Madagascar, the tamarind tree was known to the ancient Egyptians, and taken to India so long ago even botanists thought it was native there. From India it was introduced to Persia and the Arab world, thus Arabic "tamar hindi" (Indian date). It is now planted throughout the tropics and sub-tropics including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and southern Florida.
This hardwood tree can grow to around 70 feet but is in fact a legume,
related to the common green bean and pea. The sweet/sour fruit pulp
surrounding the seeds within the thin brittle shell are the part most used,
but leaf shoots and flowers are also used. Tamarind fruit pulp is an
important flavoring for food and beverages worldwide.and is an important
ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, HP Sauce (UK and Canada) and Jamaican
Tamarind pulp is widely sold in several forms, as illustrated in the photo above:
Measures: Most Indian recipes call for pulp from blocks. Measures are usually by volume, sometimes tablespoons, but more often "the size of a golf ball", "the size of a lime" or "the size of a Gooseberry. Caution: limes in India (and most of the world) are what we call "Key Limes" here in North America. They are much smaller than our common Persian / Tahitian limes, and Indian Gooseberries are much larger than what we call a gooseberry in North America.
Using Block Form
Is block better than concentrate? Yes, noticeably more tart and flavorful, nearly identical to fresh pods but easier to use because you don't have to pick off the shell and deal with the seeds. The result is much thinner than concentrate, but remarkably strong.
Leaves: In India and Africa, tender leaf shoots are used as greens and in soup. They can be purchased in jars packed in brine in some markets serving Asian communities. These have a very light sweet-sour taste. The hard stems must be removed, which is a hassle because they are in little pieces, and the leaves don't strip off easily - not really worthwhile in my opinion. The stems in the photo carried very thin leaves 0.3 inches wide and 0.7 inch long. Tamarind leaf, water, salt, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative) sodium metabisulfate (color preservative).
Seeds currently have little use but a process is being developed to use them to produce a substance similar to, but said to be superior to, fruit pectin for making jams and jellies.
Flowers: In India, flowers are used in salads and are made into a pickle in southwest India.
Pods: Immature pods are used in India to flavor rice. In the Bahamas green pods are roasted in ashes until they burst, then are dipped in the ashes and eaten. Immature pods are not available in North America except in frozen form (find them in Philippine markets). The trees are seldom planted in North America and are unlikely to fruit except at the southern tip of Florida.
Non Culinary: In Indonesia, tamarind pulp is rubbed into pottery before firing to produce a unique mottled reddish brown glaze.