Is Tamarind The Caribbean Kryptonite?

Tamarind is one of the most irresistible and iconic Caribbean flavors. One taste, and you’ll be coming back for more!

Tamarind

Also called the ‘Indian date’, this exotic fruit is grown in tropical and subtropical countries worldwide. With its African origins, tamarind is a Caribbean favorite everywhere, reminiscent of our African and Indian roots.

At first glance, you wouldn’t expect anything exciting to come from the brown, rocklike shell of a tamarind pod. But, once you crack it open, you’re introduced to one of the Caribbean's most iconic and delicious fruits, bringing both sweet and sour to your taste buds. It’s one of the most irresistible flavors on the islands. 


It’s finger-licking and used in several Caribbean dishes! But did you know some people even use it in tropical medicine and around the home? To get all the deets about this tropical gem, we’re cracking the case wide open and sharing all the facts below:

What is Tamarind?

Before we share our picks for the best tamarind dishes, let’s hear its backstory. 


Also called the ‘Indian date’, this exotic fruit is grown in tropical and subtropical countries worldwide. With its African origins, tamarind is a Caribbean favorite everywhere, reminiscent of our African and Indian roots. 


The fruit of the tamarind tree contains a hard shell filled with sticky pulp. Inside the pulp are brown beans that contain juice that is soured and sweetened when ripened. Tamarind has a long history as an essential food and medicinal plant in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia due to its health benefits.

What Health Benefits Does Tamarind Have? 


As they say, the best medicines are those found in Mother Nature, and the humble tamarind is no exception. 


In Southeast Asia, tamarind fruit is used as a poultice applied to the forehead to reduce fevers in sick people. Otherwise, individuals use it as a laxative as it contains malic acid, tartaric acid, and potassium bitartrate. Still, other people use it to treat constipation, diarrhea, and even malaria. 

Tamarind benefits

Many studies also show that tamarind can combat many different microbes, making it a contender for fighting bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Plus, it’s high in magnesium, a vital mineral our bodies need to function well.


So, now that we know the health perks let's see how Caribbean people use its flavor to make iconic dishes, sauces, drinks, and so much more.

Caribbean Tamarind Foods and Drinks

Tamarind Balls 


This sweet-and-sour flavor bomb may be the most widely enjoyed tamarind treat across the Caribbean. From the cool hills of Jamaica to beaches across Trinidad and Tobago, tamarind balls are a favorite. They’re delightfully tasty and the ultimate sweet indulgence after lunch or dinner. 


In most cases, creators will dry, sweeten, and spice tamarind pulp and then roll them into balls and deep fry them to give you a treat you can't beat. There are even spicy variations that contain a pinch or two of Caribbean pepper. Trust us; after just one bite, you’ll understand why these treats are beloved throughout the Caribbean. 


How to make tamarind balls: 


Here’s a quick and easy recipe courtesy of That Girl Cooks Healthy


Ingredients: 


  • A box of fresh tamarind pods or about 20 pods. 
  • 1 tablespoon of rum essence (optional). 
  • ¼ cup of coconut sugar or raw cane sugar.
  • Additional sugar for dusting!

Directions: 


  • Use your hands to de-shell the tamarind, then place the flesh in a medium-sized bowl.
  • Discard the stem and shell pieces. Add the coconut sugar, rum essence, (and any other ingredients you choose to use, like salt, black pepper, hot sauce, cinnamon, etc.). 
  • Use your hands to mold the tamarind into a large ball and prepare a plate with a layer of sugar for dusting. 
  • Break off small tamarind pieces to form balls, then roll them into the sugar. 
  • Repeat this step until all the balls get coated.
  • You can even place them in the fridge to firm up a little and help keep their shape. 
  • But of course, if you can’t readily find all these ingredients, you can always buy tamarind balls made by experts straight from the islands!
Tamarind Sauce

In Trinidad and Tobago, Tamarind Sauce is a staple condiment for many dishes and street foods like doubles and pholourie or serving alongside shrimp, pork, or virtually any entrée! 


Manufacturers are going as far as combining this iconic flavor with chocolate to create a unique steak sauce perfect for your next backyard barbecue or cookout. Or try any of the many tamarind-infused hot sauces from the Twin Isle that bring sweet, sour, and spice to your palate with simple sophistication.

Tamarind Candy

Caribbean candies are creatively tasty, combining tropical flavors across the islands. Tamarind candy is just as tempting! 


Treat yourself to the spicy and savory taste of sometimes chewy, sometimes hard, tangy, and irresistible tamarind candy that uniquely combines flavors to satisfy your cravings. These candies are easy to carry and perfect for snacking on throughout the day.

Tamarind Chutney and Jam

Tamarind Chutney and Jam


What do you get when you combine Tamarind Puree, Cane Sugar, Chadon Beni, Hot Peppers, Salt, Spices, and Garlic? Tamarind chutney! This savory combination of flavors is an excellent complement to lamb, roast duck, or turkey. It will be the culinary inspiration you need to boost your creativity and bring new recipes to life. To create personalized exotic dishes, you can add tamarind chutney to your casseroles, stuffings, and stews. 


Tamarind chutney should be a perfect balance between tart, sweet and spicy. Try your hand at this simple recipe courtesy of Chef Chris H De La Rosa


Ingredients: 


  • 12-14 tamarinds 
  • 1/2 scotch bonnet pepper diced 
  • 1/2 onion diced 
  • 2 scallions diced 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shado beni (or cilantro) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (see note below) 
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar 
  • 2 cloves garlic (diced or crushed) 
  • 2 1/2 cups water + 1 cup 1/2 lime (juice)

Directions: 


  • Crack the shell of the tamarinds and remove the pulp. Discard the shell and stringy bits.
  • Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add the pulp, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Allow it to cool.
  • As it simmers, prep your other ingredients (chop finely or puree). 
  • With the boiled tamarind pulp cool, use your hand/fingers and remove the hard seeds inside (discard). 
  • Place the pot back on a medium flame and add another cup of water – bring to a boil. 
  • Add the other ingredients, and after it comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for another 20 minutes. 
  • Use a blender or stick blender to puree it into a sauce (with texture). Or you can add a bit more water and allow it to cook longer until everything breakdown into the sauce consistency you like. Be sure to taste for salt and sugar and adjust accordingly, as some tamarind can be a bit more tart than others.
  • You can place it in a glass container and store it in the fridge for at least 1 week.

Tamarind jams are another hit! These delectably sweet and tangy spreads are perfect for topping crackers, mixing with cream cheese for dips, or as a glaze on smoked meats.

Tamarind Juice

Tamarind Juice 


Another tamarind delicacy is the juice, often sweetened with cane sugar and spiced with ginger! This tasty drink is excellent over ice or mixed with your favorite whisky for a delightful cocktail you’ll not soon forget. 


Are you looking for a simple and foolproof tamarind juice recipe? Here’s one from That Girl Cooks Healthy


Ingredients: 


  • 2 boxes of fresh tamarind pods, or about 2 cups. 
  • 6 cups of lukewarm water. 
  • ¼ cup of coconut nectar. You can also use maple, agave, honey, simple syrup, etc. 
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger or 1 teaspoon of ground ginger. 
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Directions:


  • Use your fingers to crack the brown tamarind shells and remove the stalk from the pulp.
  • Place the pulp in a large heatproof bowl, then carefully pour the warm water over the raw fruit. 
  • Allow the tamarind to sit in the water for 5-10 minutes, so it begins to soften. 
  • Pour the contents of the bowl into a tall blender and add fresh ginger. Do this in batches if required to accommodate the volume of liquid. 
  • On the lowest setting, pulse the tamarind for 15-10 seconds so the seed separates from the pulp. The liquid will be a dark cloudy brown hue, and the seeds should settle at the bottom of the container. Repeat this step if necessary. 
  • Pour the tamarind juice into a mesh/cheesecloth or sieve and squeeze and strain the remaining liquid. Work in batches if needed. 
  • Finally, sweeten the juice, add the vanilla and serve over ice.

There you have it! All the tamarind facts that just might make it the Caribbean kryptonite. If you’re looking for a unique and tasty fruit to try, or are just curious about tamarinds, now’s the time to get in on this exotic tropical gem. You never know: this brown shell might just have something special inside!


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