What is Tamarind and How Do You Use It In Cooking

What is Tamarind and How Do You Use It In Cooking

In this recipe, tamarind concentrate is incorporated into a glaze that’s slathered over black bass.

Photo by Laura Murray, food styling by Rebecca Jurkevich, prop styling by Sophie Strangio

How can you use it?

Raw tamarind is highly acidic and pucker-inducing. Pickle chunky pieces with tomatoes, chiles, or carrot to enjoy with Indian bread like paratha. Grind into a thokku or chutney for a tart accompaniment to dosas and idlis. To offset comforting curd rice, make chintakaya thokku, the green tamarind pickle that’s a delicacy of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

When ripe, the fruit is sweeter and less sour and used in Indian cooking in countless ways. Add the extract to a fiery red fish curry to round out the flavors like they do in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, or to your duck or lamb vadouvan curry for the Puducherry delicacy. Because tamarind paste is acidic, a slathering can also be used to tenderize a hunk of protein.

Blend a piece of tamarind pulp with your coconut chutney, beet chutney, or cilantro chutney and it will go a long way thanks to its preservative characteristics. Next time you prepare chaat, like dahi vada, bhel puri, samosa, or kachori chaat, be generous with tamarind chutney, a sweet and sour condiment that’s a mixture of tamarind extract, jaggery, dates, and spices. If you are looking for a tongue-tingling snack, dust roasted peanuts with powdered tamarind for a quick fix.

Tamarind is perfect to serve alongside samosas.

Photo by Laura Murray, food styling by Yekaterina Boystova

What are tamarind’s other benefits?

Ayurveda dictates the consumption of six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent—in every meal. Dishes made with tamarind, like rasam, impart sourness in an Indian spread. A thin soup-like extract, rasam can be ladled over a mound of steaming rice or sipped like a soup.

Rich in thiamin, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, tamarind is also a treasure trove of antioxidants. “Tamarind leaf paste aids in healing inflammation and sprain,” says Regi Mathew, co-owner and culinary director of Kappa Chakka Kandhari in Bengaluru and Chennai. “A hot tea made with these leaves is a balm for an itchy throat,” he adds.

The next time you crave a fish curry or have a sore throat, you know what to do. As for me, I still yearn to go on those train journeys for the simple pleasures of tamarind-flavored puliyodharai. 

Rathina Sankari is a freelance writer from Pune, India and loves to explore the intersection of history, culture, and food. Follow her on Instagram.

Got tamarind? Now try this recipe:

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Tamarind Chicken Thighs With Collard Greens Salad

Tamarind concentrate gives this chicken its sticky, glossy quality, not to mention its sweet-and-sour flavor.

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