Tamarind: The top health benefits of this staple Asian ingredient


Last Updated October 11th, 2019

What is Tamarind?

Tamarind is a tropical hardwood tree scientifically known as Tamarindus indica. This tree is native to Africa but has also being grown in India, Pakistan, and other tropical regions. The tamarind tree produces pulpous fiber fruits that are similar to bean pods. When young the fruit is green and sour, but once it ripens it nurtures a sweet and sour taste. It is considered one of the most vital multipurpose fruit in the Indian subcontinent and is referred to as the “date of India”. The very name tamarind was derived from the Persian term “Tamar-I-hind” which means “date of India”.

It belongs to the Fabaceae family and is a relative to beans and legumes.

The varied uses of tamarind

Tamarind as a cooling agent

Since the loss of fluids and electrolyte imbalance are some of the main causes of heat stroke, tamarind juice is considered a suitable remedy to relieve the symptoms of heat stroke.  Tamarind consists of essential minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes.  You can prepare a drink by making a paste of tamarind and adding it to the water.  A pinch of sugar can be added to this mixture.  The essential minerals and vitamins present in tamarind not only provide electrolyte balance but also reduce the body’s core temperature.  It can also act as a mild laxative that can relieve any digestive problems.

This pulpy fruit is used for cooking, health, and household purposes.

In cooking: Tamarind pulp is used widely for cooking in South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. The pulp is used in chutneys, sauces, marinades, drinks, and desserts. The leaves and seeds of the tamarind are also edible. The sweet-sour pulp can be used as such or can be substituted as a seasoning for soups, relishes, and curries. It also carries an acidic flavor that makes it the best fit in the preparation of jellies, jams, sherbets, and fruit preserves. This acidic nature of tamarind also makes it a food preservative for pickles, curries, and many more dishes. The paste of tamarind is used in cooking or it can be purchased as a block. It is often used in the preparation of sweet-sour candies by adding sugar to the tamarind paste.

In the field of medicine: Tamarind has found an avid place in traditional medicine. It is prepared as tea which is commonly used to treat diarrhea, constipation, fever, and peptic ulcers. The barks and leaves of the tamarind tree were used in the process of wound healing. The pulp of tamarind contains polyphenols that nurture both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics. Thus its consumption may help prevent the body against diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Tamarind seed extracts may help regulate blood sugar. While the pulp can be used to lose body weight and may help reverse fatty liver disease (accumulation of liver fat in people who drink little or no alcohol).

An all-rounder in your kitchen: You needn’t spend a fortune on dishwashing liquids when you have tamarind. Sounds too good to be true but the pulp can be used as a metal polisher as it contains tartaric acid. Tartaric acid is a chelating agent (chemical compounds that react with metal ions to form a stable, water-soluble complex) used for cleaning metal surfaces such as aluminum, copper, iron, and alloys of these metals.

Tamarind: Complete nutritional info

A cup of tamarind pulp which equals to 120 grams contains the following nutrients:

  • Magnesium: 28% of the RDI (recommended daily intake).
  • Potassium: 22% of the RDI.
  • Iron: 19% of the RDI.
  • Calcium: 9% of the RDI.
  • Phosphorus: 14% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 34% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 11% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 12% of the RDI.
  • Trace amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), copper and selenium.
  • Fiber: 6 grams.
  • Protein: 3 grams.
  • Fat: 1 gram.

It deemed as a fruit with no added sugar though it contains a high quantity of sugar. It is high in calories and its consumption should be limited in order to control calorie intake. As mentioned earlier it also contains polyphenols which are naturally occurring plant compounds that have health benefits.

Different forms of tamarind

Tamarind is available as a pulp fruit or in prepared forms, such as candy and sweetened syrup. The purest form of tamarind is available in three forms, they include:

  • Raw pods: These pods are the least processed form of tamarind. They’re still intact and can be easily opened to remove the pulp.
  • Pressed block: To make these, the shell and seeds are removed and the pulp is compressed into a block. These blocks are one step away from raw tamarind.
  • Concentrated form: Tamarind concentrate is pulp that has been boiled down. This pulp is used in cooking. Preservatives may also be added to this pulp in order to increase its shelf life.

What are the health benefits of consuming tamarind?

Helps maintain heart health

The antioxidants present in this fruit may boost heart health in many ways. The presence of polyphenols helps regulate cholesterol levels and lower LDL and triglycerides. They also reduce oxidative damage to LDL cholesterol which could be the major driver to heart diseases.

Healthy magnesium content

It is relatively high in beneficial magnesium. Magnesium is an avid mineral that plays a vital role in several health benefits. It helps lower blood pressure and also acts as an anti-inflammatory substance. It also possesses anti-diabetic properties and is used as a substitute for sugar. The magnesium present in tamarind also initiates a good quality of sleep at night. The mineral magnesium is directly linked to improving the sleep pattern. It may also reduce the occurrence of insomnia and promote a healthy sleep cycle.

Showcases anti-fungal, antiviral, and antibacterial effects

Tamarind was used as traditional medicines owing to its anti-fungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. The extracts of tamarind contain natural compounds which carry antimicrobial effects. It has been used as a traditional medicine to treat malaria and certain bacterial infections. These amazing effects present in tamarind make it an effective cleansing agent. When mixed with some cleansing agents helps cleanse eyes, toxic deposits in kidney, and free your stomach from stomach worms. It is used especially to treat dry eyes as it contains the chemical substance mucin that helps in protecting the eye and wet the surface of the cornea.

Supports the digestive system

It is loaded with potassium, sodium, and a considerable amount of fibers that help stimulate digestion. The fibers present in tamarind help stimulate peristaltic motion (alternate contraction and relaxation, which pushes ingested food through the digestive tract towards its release at the anus) and increases the secretion of gastric juices. This helps ease digest and prevents constipation and may also protect the body from colorectal cancer.

Skin and hair friendly

It contains an adequate amount of vitamin C that doesn’t just help improve the immune system but also helps in creating and maintaining collagen. Collagen is an essential building block for the entire body, from the skin to gut. It provides the essential proteins that play a vital role in maintaining skin and hair. It is also a natural moisturizer due to the presence of vitamin A which increases sebum (an oily secretion of the sebaceous glands) production.

Aids in weight loss

The unique compound hydroxycitric acid (HCA) present in tamarind helps with weight loss. Hydroxycitric acid is an active ingredient that helps inhibit adenosine triphosphate citrate lyase and can be used in to treat obesity.

Helps during pregnancy

Tamarind has been used as a cure to treat pregnancy-related issues such as morning sickness, upset tummy, nausea, and constipation. It contains large amounts of fibers which help to control the sensation of nausea and promote fetal development.

The perils of excessive tamarind consumption

  • People diagnosed with diabetes should take care not to consume too much of it as it can reduce blood glucose levels suddenly. Care should be also taken not to consume tamarind along with diabetic medication as it can lead to hypoglycemia (a condition caused by a very low level of blood sugar).
  • It is high in acidic nature and contains high levels of tartaric acid. The excess consumption of tamarind makes your tooth enamel wear away due to the prolonged exposure to tartaric acid. It leads to dental erosion which in the long run can lead to tooth decay and loss of teeth.
  • It causes a sore throat due to its high acidic properties. The acidic property in tamarind may cause irritation to the delicate mucosal lining of the throat. The consumption of vast amounts of sour tamarind can cause acid reflux. Acid reflux is a condition that is linked with a burning sensation in the chest which is caused by stomach acid traveling up towards the throat. It counter reacts with stomach acid and can lead to multiple health problems.
  • People suffering from bleeding disorders should avoid the excess intake of tamarind as it can aggravate bleeding disorders. The excessive consumption of tamarind can hinder the bleeding mechanism and may cause a delay in blood during intense bleeding. Individuals diagnosed with hemophilia should restrict the intake of this fruit. Hemophilia is a rare disorder in which your blood doesn’t clot normally because it lacks sufficient blood-clotting proteins. People on anticoagulant medication should limit its intake in order to prevent any bleeding complications.
  • The proteins present in tamarind may produce an adverse reaction to the proteins available in the immune system and lead to decreased immune function. Its excessive consumption may cause allergic reactions especially in people with low immunity or impaired immunity.
  • It may cause the formation of gallstones. Though this adverse reaction is yet to be proved, several studies show that the regular intake of this tart fruit has been linked to the formation of gallstones.

Lead contamination in tamarind candies

Tamarind candies are prepared with the help of the tamarind paste and sugar. However, this candy may contain unsafe levels of lead which can be harmful.

This lead exposure can make children and pregnant women vulnerable to kidney and nervous system malfunction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared tamarind candy as a cause of lead poisoning in several cases in 1999. It is still considered a potential source of lead exposure for children. Though it contains a lower amount of calories and sugar it is still considered as one of the deleterious forms of tamarind.

Tamarind: In a nutshell

This tropical tart fruit is indeed an important ingredient in many people’s kitchen. The healthiest way to consume tamarind is by adding it to savory dishes. It is a popular sweet and sour fruit which is known worldwide. In addition to being a very good ingredient in cooking but it also helps keep your utensils sparkling too. It contains many health benefits when taken in a restricted amount. It is high in sugar so be on watch when you eat too much of it, as it can elevate your sugar level. Use this fruit to add a sweet and sour note to your signature savory dishes.


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