Last Updated : Sep 13,2023

What is Tamarind, Imli? glossary | benefits | uses | recipes with tamarind |
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Also Known as
Imli, Puli

What is tamarind, imli?

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
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.

Tamarind water
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, imli

• 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.

Culinary Uses of tamarind, imli in Indian Cooking

A famous drink made using tamarind is Amlana. Have you heard of it? If not, try it out today. It is a delicious Rajasthani drink made with tamarind pulp, perked up with spices like pepper and cardamom. The addition of black salt imparts a wonderful flavour, which is further enhanced by the minty garnish.

The most prominent use of tamarind is in making Sambar – a delicacy made in most South Indian households almost daily. The sourness of this recipes is a combination of tamarind pulp and tomatoes both. A common way to have sambar is with steamed rice, papadum and spicy mango pickle for lunch.

Similarly, rasam another delicacy served with a variety of South Indian dishes like vada, rice, idli etc. also gets a part of its tempting flavours and aroma due to the use of tamarind. This homeliest South Indian recipe made with rasam powder is a thin lentil soup perked up with tamarind pulp and chopped tomatoes, a traditional rasam powder, and a simple seasoning of mustard seeds and curry leaves.

Tamarind Rice is a South Indian style tamarind rice. Tamarind rice or popularly known as puliyodharai, puliyogare, pulihora, puli sadam is a famous South-Indian tangy, spicy rice preparation. Puli” refers to Tamarind in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. The essence of this recipe is not just the use of tamarind pulp, but also a special spice powder made with 3 types of dals with Kashmiri red chillies and sesame seeds. Try it out!

The Karnataka’s famous Bisi Bele Bhaat also features tamarid along with a host of spices and coconut as its main ingredient. In this recipe, rice and toovar dal along with a special coconut paste and tamarind pulp is pressure cooked and finally served with a dollop of ghee as a one dish meal.

Ah! The famous chutneys of south served with a variety of dosas are truly irresistible. Some of these make use of tamarind too. The famous Mysore Chutney has a combination of dals, tamarind and spices. Tamarind pulp lends the necessary sourness and to balance it jaggery is used in small quantities.

The famous Mumbai roadside snack Pani Puri makes use of loads of imli to get the authentic taste of its pani. Want to learn the exact proportion of ingredients that go in making this recipe, find out here!

• 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, imli

• 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.

Health benefits of tamarind, imli

Tamarind is a good source of antioxidant polyphenols which exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. This can protect different organs of the body like heart, liver, skin etc. Some research shows that it helps to lower blood cholesterol too. It has negligible amount of fat, but on the other hand, tamarind is pretty high on calorie scale. So one needs to be very cautious about the quantity consumed. Tamarind is a rich source of vitamin C, fibre, potassium, magnesium and other nutrients necessary for good health. Some people are allergic to tamarind, while others may experience diarrhoea with excess consumption as imli is also known for its laxative properties.

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