891 Tamarindus indicaCommon Names: tamarind Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)
The tamarind is a large tropical tree with a short massive trunk, ferny pinnate leaves, small yellow flowers and fat reddish brown pods. The tree can get 90 ft (27.4 m) tall but is usually less than 50 ft (15.2 ft). It has a short, stocky trunk, drooping branches and a domed umbrella shaped crown about as wide as the tree's height. The leaves are about 10 in (25.4 cm) long with 10-18 pairs of 1 in (2.5 cm) oblong leaflets. Tamarind drops its leaves in pronounced dry seasons; in climates without a dry season it stays evergreen. The flowers are about 1 in (2.5 cm) across, pale yellow with purple or red veins. They have five unequal lobes and borne in small drooping clusters. The velvety cinnamon brown pods are 2-6 in (5.1-15.2 cm) long, sausage shaped and constricted between the seeds. The pulp that surrounds the 8-10 seeds is both sweet and extremely sour.
Tamarind, Tamarindus indica, is cultivated and has naturalized in the tropics throughout the world, but probably was originally native to eastern Africa.
CultureTamarind is a slow growing tree that, once established, needs no attention at all. It is moderately salt tolerant and can be grown in coastal locations, back away from the actual beach front. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Tamarind needs regular watering. It is fairly tolerant of drought, but will drop its leaves during even normal dry seasons. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Propagation: Tamarind is generally propagated by seed, but it also can be started from cuttings.
Tamarinds are grown as ornamental shade and street trees, and for the edible pods. The pods are fed to livestock, and the pulp within the pods is used to make beverages, curries, chutneys and sauces. Tamarind pulp is made into a soft drink known as refresco de tamarindo in Latin America, and tamarinade in Jamaica. It's also the basis of a popular drink in the Middle East. Tamarind is used extensively in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine, and is an important ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. The juice is used to pickle fish in India. Several medicinal uses of tamarind are reported in Grieve's A Modern Herbal. The fruit is said to improve digestion, relieve gas, soothe sore throats, and act as a mild laxative.
The tamarind tree is a beautiful, fine textured tree and it makes an excellent shade tree in large landscapes. It often is planted in public parks and as an avenue tree in tropical cities.
Small boys often hawk bags of plump tamarind pods along rural roads in tropical America. Crack open the thin brittle shells and suck on the seeds for the sweet, yet very acidic pulp. After a few of these your mouth will pucker and your teeth will hurt! Fresh, unprocessed tamarinds are best left for the cows!
Tamarind is in the pea and bean family, closely related to, and in the same subfamily as, royal poinciana (Delonix regia) and peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima). The name, tamarind, is used for several other, unrelated plants that have acidic fruits. Among these are Australian tamarind (Diploglottis australis); the sweet tamarinds (Inga spp.) and Manila tamarind (Pithecolobium dulce) from South America; and velvet tamarind (Dialium guineense), Spanish tamarind (Vangueria madagascariensis) and the horse tamarinds (Leucaena spp.) from Africa.
Steve Christman 12/19/00; updated 2/2/04