The word tamarind literally means Date of India, which is an apt description. Believed to be native to East Africa, tamarind now grows extensively throughout India. South East Asia and the West Indies: all areas where its particular sour flavour is used in the diverse cuisines. Tamarind is the fruit of a large tropical tree. The fruit is covered by a fawn coloured shell and is with 5 or 6 bulbous projection. When dried and freed of outer shell, the product obtained is light coloured but turns dark brown to near black in colour on drying. It is pulpy with a few long strong fibers and hard seeds. The seed are hard with deep chocolate brown colour. Inside is rich in starch and white in colour. The sticky pulp surrounding the seeds has a high tartaric acid content, which accounts for its wide use as a souring agent. Tamarind has little smell- perhaps a hint of sweet and sour to its aroma- but its flavour makes up for this, being particularly sour, yet fruity and refreshing, resembling sour prunes.
Tamarind is used as a laxative and for tummy upsets. It is antiseptic, used in eye baths and for the treatment of ulcers. Over ripe fruits can be used to clean copper and brass, a common practice in colonial times.
Tamarind is a standard ingredient throughout India and South east Asia in curries, chutneys, lentil and bean dishes as well as in famous hot and sour soups. The juice is made into a refreshing drink in both the Middle East and the West Indies. Tamarind is also one of the ingredients in the famous Worcestershire sauce. Tamarind is also used as preservative and as acidulant in foods.