Tamarind – History, Uses and Health Benefits

Tamarind – History, Uses and Health Benefits

Tamarind is a tropical fruit derived from the brown pods of the large evergreen tamarind tree that mainly grows in tropical regions of Africa, Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and West Indies. It has a gummy, sticky texture, and unique sweet-sour and acidic taste, making it a common ingredient in many food recipes around the world. Each pod contains a sticky pulp and a number of black seeds. The pulp contains all the nutritional and health benefits of the fruit.

Uses of tamarind

The pulp is commonly used in Asian cuisine for chutneys and curries. In the West, tamarind juice contributes to the preparation of barbecue and Worcestershire sauces, and other meat condiments. Besides its predominant use in food recipes, tamarind pulp is also used for cleaning metals, thanks to its tartaric acid content, which is powerful enough to get rid of tarnish from metals such as silver and brass. [1]. Tamarind is also predominantly used in traditional medicine in India, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, and other tropical countries to treat constipation, diarrhea, malaria, peptic ulcers and fever. The leaves and bark of the tree are harnessed and used to promote wound healing. [2].

In contemporary Africa, tamarind use has not been extensively advanced, but tamarind-based soft drinks are already common in certain parts of Africa. For example, in Mali and Burkina Faso, tamarind-based soft drinks, both fresh and carbonated, fiercely rival Coca-Cola in regard to popularity. In fact, supermarkets in Mali and Burkina Faso are awash with these tamarind-based drinks. Mali, in particular, has its own manufactured concentrated syrup, enjoying a big market share. Mali’s tamarind drinks enjoy incredible sales in streets, as well as bars in Paris and Rome. [3]. In Sierra Leone, tamarind is mixed with seasoning cubes and chili peppers to make a sweet, spicy and savory treat known locally as tombi (Mende for tamarind).

History of Tamarind fruit

Tamarind fruit originated from tropical Africa, majorly Sudan, Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso, but grows widely across the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and West Indies. The first humans to cultivate tamarind were the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Although it’s not accurately known when tamarind hit the shores of Asia from Africa, it’s believed that Arabs introduced and traded it to Indians. Arabs named it ”tamar”, which means ‘’date of India.” [2]. Due to this name, India has been widely credited with the origin of Tamarind. Tamarind hit the shores of East Indies, thanks to the Portuguese who first explored the country. Spanish explorers later introduced tamarind to the Philippines. The Spanish colonists also introduced the fruit to the Americas during the 17th century, specifically Hawaii in the early 1997. Today, there are more plantations in South and Central America. Although India is the biggest cultivator of tamarind in the world, the fruit is also grown in Sudan, Mexico, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Tanzania. [4]

Differences between the sour and the sweet tamarind

There are two main types of tamarind – sour and sweet. The sour tamarind is the most well-known and widely available, while the sweet tamarind is a common fruit snack among Thais. Thai people call it makam wan which is literally translated as sweet tamarind. The trees of both sweet and sour tamarind look alike. The main different comes in their flavors. The ordinary tamarind is quite sour in taste, while the sweet tamarind, as the name suggests, is extremely sweet. The sour tamarind trees are available throughout the world, while the sweet tamarind trees only grow in specific provinces, mainly Phetchabun in Thailand [5]

Tamarind’s Nutritional profile

Besides being delicious, tamarind contains an incredible range of essential vitamins and minerals. For every 100 grams of tamarind you eat, you’ll be able to get:

  • 36% of your RDA of thiamine
  • 35% of your RDA of iron
  • 23% of your RDA of magnesium
  • 16% of your RDA of phosphorous

This superfruit also contains potassium, copper, calcium, niacin and vitamin C, not to mention it’s a great source of fiber, and an excellent source of carbohydrate for energy.

Source: [6]

Benefits of Tamarind

1. Mitigates cancer

Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases on earth and preventions measures could play a pivotal role in keeping it at bay. Happily, tamarind is loaded with antioxidants that minimize the increase of free radicals in the body that expose you to cancer. The antioxidants found in tamarind include flavonoid, polyphenols, anthocyanin and tannins. [6]

2. Good for stomach health

Regular use of tamarind juice helps treat inflammatory bowel complications like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Tamarind juice is also effective in keeping stomach pathogens and stomach ulcers at bay. [7].

Tamarind is a mild laxative as it contains high amounts of malic acid, tartaric acid and potassium, as well as being a rich source of fiber. The rich fiber content helps relieve and treat constipation by adding mass to stools, allowing them to move through the body more comfortably. The laxative property helps fight parasites and intestinal worms in children. Leveraging the laxative property of tamarind is a great way to naturally cure diarrhea and dysentery [2] and to lower inflammation brought about by hemorrhoids. Tamarind also stimulates bile production in the stomach, promoting easier digestion of food. [8]

3. Tamarind has excellent anti-inflammatory properties

According to a research study published in the International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, regular consumption of tamarind, whether raw or spice form, helps relieve a series of inflammatory conditions like inflammation of the joints such as arthritis and rheumatism. The neutralization of free radicals by antioxidants is thought to be responsible for this. The study also revealed that internal inflammation is the main cause of a wide range of severe ailments like, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and hay fever. [9]

4. Helps fight off diabetes

Tamarind juice has excellent carb-blocking properties that assist your body in absorbing carbohydrates. This is good for lowering blood sugar levels of diabetes sufferers after meals. The juice also mitigates oxidative damage in the pancreas, which is associated with diabetes. Diabetes sufferers have increased probabilities of developing coronary heart disease. Tamarind seed extract contains high levels of flavonoid and polyphenol, which have demonstrated the ability to manage diabetes. Regular intake of tamarind juice is a surefire way to help reduce the risks of this dangerous disease. [10]

5. Boosts blood circulation

Tamarind is a rich source of iron. Iron is essential in increasing red blood cell count in the body, which the organs and muscles need to function optimally. A single serving (approx. 100g) of tamarind provides 35% of the RDA of iron. A deficiency of iron can lead to anemia, which causes fatigue, and general weaknesses. Eating tamarind can go a long way in helping individuals suffering from low hemoglobin levels.

6. Critical to liver health

Tamarind provides powerful liver protective capabilities. Research studies have shown that tamarind juice has the ability to decongest the liver and gall bladder, and also offers antioxidant protection against free radical damage to the liver. A recent study revealed that the liver maintained normal hepatic function with fewer areas of damage when treated upfront with tamarind extracts. This possibly boiled down to the scavenging effects of free radicals. Tamarind has also manifested capabilities to minimize accumulation of fat in the liver and help in metabolizing lipids. [11] Excess fat in the liver is associated with an increased risk of problems such as diabetes, heart attacks and stroke.

7. Boosts immune system

The sweet and sour tamarind are essential for boosting the body’s immune system due to its vitamin C content. Being antioxidant-dense, tamarind seeds and pulp also helps in mitigating a wide range of microbial and fungal infections. The fruit exhibits remarkable antiseptic and antimicrobial effects, which helps to mitigate the occurrence of parasites in the body and alleviates parasites in children’s stomachs. [6] [12]

8. Tamarind is a natural food preservative

In this day and age where individuals are looking to dodge chemical additives and preservatives, the use of natural additives and preservatives is gaining popularity. According to a research study published in the International Food Research Journal; tamarind has powerful antimicrobial properties capable of naturally preserving foods. The study showed that natural extracts of tamarind has the potential to replace synthetic food preservatives. [13]

The side effects of tamarind

Tamarind has a multitude of health benefits, but if consumed in excess, it can have far reaching repercussions. Tamarind is highly acidic and sweet, which means it will seriously impact your teeth. Excess consumption can corrode your teeth enamel so always ensure to consume tamarind in moderation. It can also cause drug interactions. If you’re into any ophthalmic antibiotic (applying topically on your eyes), stay away from tamarind as it interacts with these kinds of drugs and can cause skin and health hazards. Also, avoid tamarind if you’re taking any vasoconstrictor as it adds to the vasoconstricting effect by driving up the process of narrowing of the blood vessels, leading to slow blood flow, or worse, total blockage of blood vessels. Tamarind can also lead to allergic reactions. Those that are sensitive to this fruit could develop rashes, itching, stinging sensation, inflammation, vomiting, and light-headedness when consumed. [14]


  1. http://www.boldsky.com/home-n-garden/improvement/2013/tamarind-uses-cleaning-032137.html
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210002/
  3. https://www.nap.edu/read/11879/chapter/11#150
  4. http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Tamarind
  5. http://www.thailandbreeze.com/sweet-and-sour-tamarind.html
  6. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115300885
  7. https://crohnsdisease.com/nutrition/crohns-and-the-fodmap-elimination-diet/
  8. http://icmr.nic.in/ijmr/2004/0501.pdf
  9. http://www.ijppsjournal.com/Vol5Issue4/7802.pdf
  10. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874104000637
  11. http://www.liversupport.com/tamarind-offers-liver-protective-qualities/
  12. http://alkalinevalleyfoods.com/8-wonderful-health-benefits-tamarind-may-not-know/4/
  13. http://www.ifrj.upm.edu.my/21%20(06)%202014/53%20IFRJ%2021%20(06)%202014%20Gupta%20426.pdf
  14. http://www.vitaminclass.com/side-effects-of-tamarind/






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