Ingredient of the week: Tamarind
Anyone who has had fresh tamarind knows that it’s mighty sour and a little sweet. I think it’s nature’s best candy if you like to pucker up. When I was a child, our neighbours had a tamarind tree in their yard. When they weren’t around, my sister and I would shake the tree and gather the pods to make tamarind candy balls or a drink called Tamarind Fizz. But mostly we’d just pick them up and eat them. We learned the hard way that if you eat too many tamarinds your tongue will get sore … not that that stopped us at the time.
In Jamaica and Trinidad, Tamarind Balls are made with the fruit’s sticky flesh rolled with granulated sugar into round candy balls. You can also find spicy versions that have hot pepper mixed in. In it’s natural form tamarind looks like a bean pod. It has a crisp, brown shell and the fruit is sticky, tart and sweet with several seeds in each pod.
In Jamaica, tamarind trees grow pretty much anywhere. The pods are green and you can tell they’re mature when the shell is brown or reddish-brown like in the photo above.
Tamarind trees can be found most of the tropical zones of the world, including Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America. In other countries they are often used as ingredient in savory sauces, or to make jams, ice cream and cold drinks, like we do in Jamaica. You’ll also be interested to know that tamarind is a common “secret” ingredient in many brands of steak sauce, including HP Sauce, my favourite.