Tamarind is one of the newest ingredients in my pantry, but dang if it didn’t quickly become a favorite! The tangy, sweet-but-savory flavor of tamarind is unparalleled, and the health benefits of tamarind are pretty great too.
Tamarind comes from a pod on a large tropical tree. Sometimes you can find the whole pod at Asian markets or farmer’s markets, but most often it’s found as a paste, ready to be mixed into all your recipes. If you can find the fresh pods, you’ll need to spend some sticky time with them. Each pod will contain a paste mixed with a few large seeds. The seeds need to be removed, and then the paste can be strained and stored in the refrigerator for later use.
But if you’ve taken the shortcut (and I recommend you do!), tamarind paste can be found in most well-stocked health food stores, usually in the Asian foods section near the coconut milk. It’s a thick, very sticky paste that can be mixed into dressings, sauces, curries, Thai-style noodles and stir-fries. Whether you purchase the whole pod or the paste, be sure that there is only one ingredient in your tamarind. Many brands will contain preservatives, flavorings or colorings, and you don’t need any of that in your new favorite ingredient. Learn more about how to use tamarind seeds and pods on Eat. Drink… Better.
The Health Benefits of Tamarind
No doubt that tamarind has lots of benefits for our taste buds, but also for our bodies:
- Heart health: Studies show that tamarind might help fight cholesterol; a study showed that daily consumption of tamarind fruit (pod) decreased cholesterol by 50%.
- Diabetes management: intake of tamarind increased the amount of insulin-producing cells and lowered blood sugar levels because of the high levels of polyphenols and flavonoids.
- Tamarind pulp is also linked with healthy weight management: SF Gate notes that, “Tamarind… decreased levels of fat in the liver and reduced levels of liver enzymes, which, when elevated, indicate stress on the liver. Tamarind-supplemented animals showed significant weight loss after 28 days in a study.”
- Mercola says that tamarind contains high amounts of thiamin, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and fiber. When used in recipes– which usually call for a small amount– the fiber amount is small, but if you eat the fruit itself, it has over 20% of your daily recommended fiber intake per cup.
- The tangy flavor of tamarind comes from tartaric acid, which gives flavor but also offers great antioxidants to fight those nasty free radicals in our body.
How to Use Tamarind
There are lots of ways to use this delicious ingredient. As we mentioned above, it’s commonly used in Southeast Asian foods, like Indian chutneys and Thai curries, but it’s also found in Caribbean foods, like the Green Banana Curry below. We’ve created two new recipes using tamarind, one a sweet and simple soda, and the other is a decadent but healthful dressing made with tahini. The dressing one was actually created by my partner, who just decided to start experimenting in the kitchen one night with new ingredients.
Green Banana Curry
A unique twist on curry, featuring a most unlikely ingredient– green bananas. My coworker taught me how to cook green bananas, and you too will be surprised at how delicious this wacky ingredient can be. Green bananas are just regular bananas that have not ripened yet; choose bananas that are totally green, which means the texture is very firm and the sugars have not yet developed. When cooked, they taste similar to potatoes. If you can’t find (or don’t want to experiment with) green bananas, white potatoes will work just fine. Get our unique recipe for Green Banana Curry.
Vegan Pad Thai Noodles
Classic Pad Thai is a simple noodle dish that captures the flavor of Thailand in a quick meal. The tamarind is used in combination with lime, soy sauce (to replace fish sauce), and agave for a full-flavored meal. Find the super simple Vegan Pad Thai recipe here.
Tamarind Red Lentil Stew
This is actually my favorite way to use tamarind, because it’s the easiest. Red, brown or green lentils pair perfectly with the richness of tamarind. You can follow the easy recipe here, or just stir a Tablespoon or two into your next lentil stew or soup for an unexpectedly tasty twist. Here’s our recipe for Tamarind Lentils.
Sweet Tamarind Soda (with or without booze!)
Our intrepid site director Becky is always creating amazing cocktails with healthy ingredients (hello, Mulberry Fizz and tea-infused vodka!). So I was inspired to twist it up with some tamarind, and here’s my tamarind cocktail recipe: a simple sweet and tangy soda for a sunny day. Perfect for picnics and rooftop barbeques, or whatever other summer fun activities you might have planned! Get sippin’ on some Homemade Tamarind Soda.
Creamy Tamarind Tahini Dressing
And a totally new recipe, one that includes my absolute favorite ingredient for sassy, sexy salads: tahini. Tahini is a super creamy sesame butter which pairs with damn near everything. Here I’ve combined it with tangy tamarind for a great dressing.
Creamy Tamarind Tahini Dressing
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
2 Tablespoons tamarind paste
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos
Black pepper to taste
1/4 cup water (more as needed for texture)
- Mix all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Depending on the type of tahini used, you may need to add a few Tablespoons of water to make it pourable.
- Taste, and adjust with more soy sauce, vinegar or water as needed for a saltier or sharper flavor, or for a thinner texture.
- This dressing is great on spinach, kale or lettuce salads, but also works for noodles and roasted veggies!
Yield: 1/2 cup dressing