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Tamarind is a widely used spice-condiment in most south Asian cuisines including Indian and Thai cooking.
Tamarind grows in trees as a soft, dark brown coloured pod with black coloured seeds encased inside it. The pod, which is soft, sticky and sour, is the part that is used in cooking. The seeds are discarded.
Tamarind comes in sweet and sour varieties. The sour variety is used in Indian cooking, while Thai cuisine mainly uses the sweeter version. Most varieties of tamarind have a very sour taste while young. Although the fruit gets sweeter as it ages, the basic flavour is predominantly sour and acidic.
Fresh tamarind has a unique sweet and sour flavour that is liked by many. Tamarind, off the tree, has a hard shell covering soft meat with big black seeds. In order to use it, you need to first crack open and discard the hard shell, then simmer the meat in hot water for around five minutes. Remove from the flame, and allow it to cook slightly. Then, mash the pulp and sieve it roughly with your hands, to remove the seeds. The resulting pulp can be used to make tangy imli candies, chutneys, and delicious Thai foods like Pad Thai.
To get tamarind water, soak tamarind pods in warm water for at least fifteen minutes. After they soften, crush the pods and extract the pulp. Pour more water on the remaining pod, crush and extract the pulp again. If you find the pod to be still pulpy, you can add a little more water and extract the juice again. Mix all the extracts and add more water to dilute it to a juice-like consistency. Strain this water, and the resulting liquid is called tamarind water, often known as imli ka pani in Hindi and puli thanni in Tamil. This water is used in many recipes like sambhar, chutneys, rasam etc.
How to Select
• Tamarind is available in markets all year round in small and big packets.
• Check for the softness and freshness of tamarind by lightly pressing the packet. Do not buy tamarind that is too hard as it might not give enough pulp when soaked.
• Always check the seal of the packet.
• If buying from bulk bins, make sure the bin was covered and free of dust and debris.
• A newer stock of tamarind gives the food a more pleasant colour, while old tamarind results in a darker coloured food. However, those with acidity must go for older tamarind as it is less harsh on the stomach.
• Apart from being a souring agent, tamarind also helps tenderise foods.
• It is often used to prepare tangy chutneys and appetising drinks.
• Tamarind is used to impart tanginess to many Indian dishes including pickles and curries.
• A south Indian kitchen is considered incomplete without tamarind! It is used in most popular south Indian foods including the famous sambhar, rasam, and some chutneys as well.
• To make delicious sambhar the veggies are first boiled in tamarind water before sambhar powder and cooked dal are added.
• In making rasam too, tomatoes and green chillies are first cooked in tamarind water before cooked dal and rasam powder are added.
• Tamarind chutney made with jaggery and cumin seeds is a tasty accompaniment for samosas and pakodas.
• Tamarind is also one of the ingredients of Worcestershire sauce.
• One of the primary souring agents in Thai cooking, tamarind imparts a delicious fruity tartness to soups, salads, stir-fries and sauces.
How to Store
• Tamarind pods can be stored at room temperature for several weeks, if tightly packaged.
• It is better to store it in non-reactive glass or earthen jars, which helps retain their fresh colour.
• Tamarind is a rich source of vitamins, fibre, potassium, magnesium and other nutrients necessary for good health.
• Tamarind is a good source of antioxidants that fight against cancer and also contains carotenes, vitamin C, flavonoids and B-vitamins.
• It is also rich in thiamin (36% of daily required levels), vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin and niacin.
• Much of these vitamins plays antioxidant as well as co-factor functions for enzyme metabolism inside the body.
• It is beneficial for treating fevers and common cold.
• Gargling tamarind water is helpful in sore throat.
• Tamarind is used to treat bile disorders.
• Tamarind lowers cholesterol and promotes a healthy heart.
• This spice condiment is also used as an emulsifying agent in syrups, decoctions, etc., in different pharmaceutical products.
• Tamarind pulp is a useful remedy for vomiting, flatulence, constipation and indigestion.
• Tamarind water can also help improve appetite.
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