How to Use Tamarind

This week we answer the question: I saw tamarind concentrate and tamarind paste at the Indian market. What's the difference? How do I use them?

Don't think you've tasted tamarind? Check out the list of ingredients on the label of your bottle of Worcestershire sauce and you may be surprised to see tamarind. This fruit is often, mistakenly, referred to as a bean because its sweet-sour pulp and seeds grow inside a pod on the evergreen Tamarindus Indica tree.

Native to East Africa, the tree thrives in tropical climates. Found in ancient India and Egypt, tamarind trees also grow in Southeast Asia and were brought to the West Indies, Latin America and eventually southern regions of U.S. during the colonial expansion. The name comes from the Arabic tamarhindi: Indian date.

The unripe fruit is very sour and acidic. As the fruit ripens on the tree, it changes color from green to brown. During the drying process the sugar content increases and the red- brown pulp inside the pod develops its distinctive acidic sweet-sour slightly fruity flavor.

How to find, prepare and use tamarind after the jump.

Tamarind is a common ingredient in African, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, Latino, and Mexican cuisines. The pulp is used to create sauces, dressings, drinks and confections. High in tartaric acid tamarind adds the kind of tart flavor to a dish western cooks associate with lemon juice. But trust me, its flavor is far more complex than simple citrus. Tamarind also contains pectin making it ideal for use in chutneys, jams even candies.

Where to find: Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Latino groceries.
Whole tamarind (still in the pod) can be found loose or packaged in the produce section. Tamarind paste, with seeds, come in sealed pressed blocks. Ready to use concentrate is sold jarred or canned. You can also find bottled tamarind syrup (to flavor drinks) as well as tamarind beverages.

How to use: Whole pods: remove the pulp from the pod, remove the fibrous "string" from the pulp, soak the pulp in very hot water (2 parts water to one part pulp) for 20 minutes or simmer until soft, strain water into a bowl, push pulp through strainer into the water and stir for a concentrate or discard water and retain paste to be thinned out later. Store in a clean tightly sealed jar in refrigerator.

Tamarind paste: Remove a portion of the paste from the block. Soak paste as above. Strain the seeds from the softened paste. Use paste as is or dilute with water for a less intense flavor. Store the unused paste in a clean tightly sealed glass jar and remaining block tightly wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.

Tamarind concentrate: Ready to use. Read the label when choosing a brand for additions of sweeteners and artificial ingredients-try to buy purist form. Thin with water if necessary for recipe or simply stir into a sauce or dressing. Store opened jar in refrigerator.

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Carol Blonder

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