What Is Tamarind? A Tropical Fruit With Health Benefits

Opened Tamarind PodTamarind is a type of tropical fruit.

It’s used in many dishes around the world, and may even have medicinal properties.

This article tells you everything you need to know about tamarind, including what it is, how it benefits health and how to use it.

What Is Tamarind?

Tamarind is a hardwood tree known scientifically as Tamarindus indica.

It’s native to Africa but also grows in India, Pakistan and many other tropical regions.

The tree produces bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by a fibrous pulp.

The pulp of the young fruit is green and sour. As it ripens, the juicy pulp becomes paste-like and more sweet-sour.

Interestingly, tamarind is sometimes referred to as the “date of India.”

This is what it looks like:

Three Tamarind Pods and Seeds

Bottom Line: Tamarind is a tropical tree that grows in several regions around the world. It produces pods filled with paste-like, sweet-sour fruit.

How Is It Used?

This fruit has many uses. It’s used for cooking, health and household purposes.

Cooking Uses

Tamarind pulp is widely used for cooking in South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, the Middle East and the Caribbean. The seeds and leaves are also edible.

It is used in sauces, marinades, chutneys, drinks and desserts. It’s also one of the ingredients of Worcestershire sauce.

Medicinal Uses

Tamarind has played an important role in traditional medicine.

In beverage form, it was commonly used to treat diarrhea, constipation, fever and peptic ulcers. The bark and leaves were also used to promote wound healing.

Modern researchers are now studying this plant for potential medicinal uses.

The polyphenols in tamarind have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These can protect against diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The seed extract may also help lower blood sugar, while the pulp extract may help you lose body weight and reverse fatty liver disease (1).

Home Uses

Tamarind pulp can also be used as a metal polish. It contains tartaric acid, which helps remove tarnish from copper and bronze.

Bottom Line: Tamarind is used as a flavoring in many dishes. It also has medicinal properties and can be used as a tarnish remover.

It Is High in Nutrients

Tamarind is high in many nutrients. A single cup (120 grams) of the pulp contains (2):

  • Magnesium: 28% of the RDI.
  • Potassium: 22% of the RDI.
  • Iron: 19% of the RDI.
  • Calcium: 9% of the RDI.
  • Phosphorus: 14% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 34% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 11% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 12% of the RDI.
  • Trace amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), copper and selenium.

It also contains 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat. This comes with a total of 287 calories, almost all of which are from sugar.

In fact, a single cup of tamarind contains 69 grams of carbs in the form of sugar, which is equivalent to 17.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Despite its sugar content, tamarind pulp is considered a fruit, not an added sugar — the kind that’s linked to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (3).

However, tamarind is pretty high in calories compared to many other fruit, which may be a problem for people who are trying to control calorie intake.

It also contains polyphenols, which are naturally occurring plant compounds that have health benefits. Many of them act as antioxidants in the body (1).

Bottom Line: Tamarind contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids and beneficial plant compounds. It also has a lot of sugar.

Different Forms of Tamarind

Tamarind is available in prepared forms, such as candy and sweetened syrup.

You can also find the pure fruit in three main forms:

  • Raw pods: These pods are the least processed form of tamarind. They’re still intact and can be easily opened to remove the pulp.
  • Pressed block: To make these, the shell and seeds are removed and the pulp is compressed into a block. These blocks are one step away from raw tamarind.
  • Concentrate: Tamarind concentrate is pulp that has been boiled down. Preservatives may also be added.

Bottom Line: Pure tamarind comes in three main forms: raw pods, pressed blocks and concentrate. It’s also available as candy and syrup.

Its Antioxidants May Boost Heart Health

Tamarind on a Chopping Board

This fruit may boost heart health in several ways.

It contains polyphenols like flavonoids, some of which can help regulate cholesterol levels.

One study in hamsters with high cholesterol found that tamarind fruit extract lowered total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides (4).

The antioxidants in this fruit can help reduce oxidative damage to LDL cholesterol, which is a key driver of heart disease (1).

Bottom Line: Tamarind pulp contains plant compounds that may protect against heart disease and oxidative damage.

It’s High in Beneficial Magnesium

Tamarind is also relatively high in magnesium.

One ounce (28 grams), or a little less than 1/4 cup of pulp, delivers 6% of the RDI (2).

Magnesium has many health benefits and plays a role in more than 600 body functions. It can also help lower blood pressure and has anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effects.

However, 48% of people in the US do not get enough magnesium (5).

Bottom Line: Tamarind contains a good amount of magnesium, an important mineral that plays a role in over 600 functions in the body.

It May Have Anti-fungal, Antiviral and Antibacterial Effects

Tamarind Pods and Leaves

Tamarind extract contains natural compounds that have antimicrobial effects (6).

In fact, studies show that this plant may have anti-fungal, antiviral and antibacterial activity.

It has also been used in traditional medicine to treat diseases like malaria (1).

A compound called lupeol is credited with tamarind’s antibacterial effects (1).

Because antibiotic resistance is increasing these days, researchers are particularly interested in using medicinal plants to fight bacteria (1).

Bottom Line: Several studies show that tamarind can combat many different microbes. It may help kill bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

Tamarind Candy May Have Unsafe Levels of Lead

Lead exposure is dangerous, especially for children and pregnant women. It can damage the kidneys and nervous system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited tamarind candy as a cause of lead poisoning in several cases in 1999. It is still considered a potential source of lead exposure for children (7).

Although it has fewer calories and less sugar than many other types of candy, it’s still candy, making it the least healthy form of tamarind.

Bottom Line: Tamarind candy may contain unsafe amounts of lead. For that reason, children and pregnant women should avoid it.

How to Eat Tamarind

You can enjoy this fruit in several ways.

One is to simply eat the fruit from the raw pods, as shown in this video.

You can also use tamarind paste in cooking. You can either prepare it from the pods or purchase it as a block.

The paste is often mixed with sugar to make candy. Tamarind can also be used to make condiments like chutney.

Additionally, you can use the frozen, unsweetened pulp or sweetened tamarind syrup for cooking.

You may also use this fruit to add a sour note to savory dishes, instead of lemon.

Bottom Line: There are several ways to enjoy tamarind. It can be used in sweet and savory dishes, or eaten straight from the pod.

Take Home Message

Tamarind is a popular sweet and sour fruit used worldwide. Although it has many beneficial nutrients, it’s also very high in sugar.

The healthiest way to eat this fruit is either raw or as an ingredient in savory dishes.