What Is Tamarind And What Does It Taste Like?

You've surely heard of tamarind, but what do you really know about this versatile and fruity flavor? Native to tropical Africa, tamarind is derived from the Arabic tamar hind, which loosely translated means "Indian date," (via Bon Appetit). The tamarind tree's fruit can resemble a chocolatey-colored pea or bean inside a lighter-colored pod. The flavor of tamarind can be either sweet or sour, depending on how ripe the fruit is and what part of this highly utilized plant you are including in your food. The Pioneer Woman blog describes the taste of tamarind juice to an American palate as, "...something akin to tropical caramelized lemonade."

Even if you don't know it, you've probably tasted tamarind. The fruit is used commonly in Indian cuisine, such as chaats and curries, and is also used in Worcestershire sauce (via WebMD). Powdered tamarind is used in candies and snacks. Paste, concentrate, or extract of the ripe fruit is used as a sweet-sour agent in chutneys and many meat dishes. Browned and ripened fruits are often used as a marinade for steak or fish, and the unripened sour fruits are frequently chopped and pickled. The fruit is used in many cases to balance flavors or add a mild sourness to dishes. Tamarind can tenderize meat or act as a food preservative. The specific flavor of tamarind depends on how you use it.

Tamarind is for both the sweet and sour lovers

Tamarind seeds (inside the pea-like hanging pods) have a date-like texture but a totally different taste (via MedMunch). This pulp/seed/paste is very sour when unripe and quite sweet when fully ripened, leading to its diverse range of flavor. Some might describe the result as a "tropical lemonade with a hint of caramel" noting that even at the sweetest, there's a tang that can creep up on you, per MedMuch.

One tamarind lover describes the experience of eating the fruit: "The sweet and sour taste of tamarind is just incredible," (via Instagram). The cook goes on to note, "The ripe ones, you can crack the shell to get to a jammy, tart and sweet goodness. The greens ones are tart and astringent. You make amazing chutney with both kinds. We also cook with tender tamarind flowers and leaves. Tamarind flowers are called Chigur and we make daal and chutney with those."

Which flavor of tamarind you'll like best is really a matter of taste, so it's important to know how to adjust to meet your palate (via Fine Dining). If you've followed a recipe but still find your tamarind a bit too sour, it's okay to add a little sweetener like sugar. If you prefer the more savory side of this flavor, tamarind pairs well with "aromatics such as ginger, garlic, and chiles" but experts warn of avoiding fresh herbs with these dishes in general, according to Fine Dining.