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If you love grapefruit or cranberries or green apples, allow us to introduce you to something that will make your mouth-puckering sour-fruit dreams come true: Tamarind.
Tamarind might sound familiar. While it isn’t an incredibly common ingredient in the US, it does pop up in dishes from many different countries and cultures. Perhaps you’ve seen tamarind in desserts before – like spicy-sweet tamarindos from Mexico or tamarind candy from Thailand. Even if you haven’t seen or tried these foods, chances are you’ve tasted this fruit or its puree before. It’s a traditional ingredient in pad thai, some Indian curries and chutneys and in many Caribbean dishes.
And there’s one more surprising place you’ll find tamarind. It’s one of the ingredients that gives Worcestershire sauce its distinctive flavor. So, while you might not have purchased or cooked with this fruit yourself, you’ve very likely tried it many times.
What does tamarind taste like?
Tamarind is a tropical fruit that grows on the Tamarindus indica tree, a plant that’s native to Africa and found in India, Pakistan and other tropical regions. When it grows, it doesn’t immediately look like fruit – it resembles a bean pod. Inside that pod, though, there’s a juicy, sweet and sour pulp that’s paste-like in consistency.
Once mature, it’s very tart. But it also has a deep richness to it that’s similar to molasses, in that it’s dark and almost smoky in flavor. Though this fruit does have a brightness to it, the overarching flavor is sour and tangy.
Thanks to its unique flavor, tamarind can add so much to soups, sauces, stir-fries, marinades, desserts – even cocktails.
How to use tamarind
Because tamarind is so flavorful and so versatile, it’s a fantastic ingredient to keep in your kitchen pantry. You can buy the puree in jars in Asian markets and in the ethnic foods section of many grocery stores.
There are quite a few ways to use that puree. Mix it with coconut aminos, garlic and honey and use it to glaze fish or chicken. You can also add a spoonful to your favorite barbecue sauce or chili recipe for a different twist. Tamarind can easily spice up curries – just stir it into a curry with coconut milk or fold it into plain yogurt with garlic and garam masala.
Tamarind also makes a fantastic ingredient in different desserts. Mix some into the batter of your gingersnaps or brownies. Or, whisk water, vanilla and honey into tamarind paste to make a sweet sauce you can pour over cakes, ice cream and more. You can even punch up the flavor of vanilla ice cream by stirring it into a vanilla ice cream base and churning the mixture in your ice cream maker.
Learn more about using tamarind and the puree’s sweet-sour potential to make delicious Thai-inspired dishes at home with our Key Thai Food Ingredients, or give a tamarind-centric recipe a try and whip up our Tamarind Roasted Chipotle Salmon.