The Amazing Benefits of Tamarind (One Bean You'll Actually Love to Eat)
“It’s not what you’d expect.”
The cracking brown pod handled by my au pair put me in mind of carob or some other large dried bean pod. I feigned an excited smile and ruefully watched her crack open the pod and pull out a mass of brown goo.
I’m not much for trying new things- small-minded of me, I know. But in the time that our Hispanic au pair has made her residence with us I’ve tried really hard, for the benefit of my children (of course), to try new foods no matter how unenthusiastic I feel. This latest treat from the local La Michoacana (Mexican grocery) was no exception.
Meet, tamarind. Have you heard of it?
Also known as the “date of India”, tamarind is one of the most prized foods in Asia, Africa and South America. The fruit (a distant relative of carob, I’m pleased to say) grows in irregularly shaped, bulgy pods about 3-8 inches long. The fruit (also categorized as a legume – source) is usually left on the tree for up to 6 months in order to dehydrate into a condensed, sticky pulp inside the brittle shell.
It was this pulp that my au pair wielded in front of my face while I assembled enough gumption to put the gooey mass into my mouth. Only she was aware that I was about to discover a deliciously addictive new treat.
Here’s the kicker: it looks like carob, but it tastes like Sour Patch Kid candy. No joke. It’s tangy but sweet. Gooey yet taffy-like. Sour but bursting with flavor. I loved it.
Better yet, I discovered this yummy treat is chocked full of vitamin B (specifically B1- thiamin) and calcium (source), iron, Vitamin A and – no brainer, Vitamin C (tartaric acid… no wonder it’s reminiscent of Sour Patch Kids)! Source.
And like most ancient foods, tamarind offers many medicinal benefits beyond just it’s nutrient profile and antioxidant abilities. Historically it’s been used:
To ease constipation with its laxative effects and fiber content;
To lower blood sugar;
To reduce signs of aging;
To detoxify the liver;
To boost the digestive system;
To help ward off colds;
To ease pregnancy-related nausea; and
To purge intestinal worms.
The pulp is used to flavor chutney, sauces, marinades, beverages and can also be used to tenderize meat because of the high acid content. It’s a great addition for flavoring stir fries and curries. And get this, it’s hiding on the ingredient label of the Worcestershire sauce in your pantry. Who knew, right?!
Tamarind just happens to be one of those things I’m so glad I’ve tried. And it got me thinking just how many of the wonderful foods tucked away in our local groceries and farmer’s markets might just become new family favorites if only we give them a try.