Tamarind: Benefits, Nutrition, and Facts

Tamarind: Benefits, Nutrition, and Facts


Tamarind, scientifically known as Tamarindus indica, thrives as a tropical tree native to Africa and southern Asia. Its brown, pod-shaped fruits yield a sweet and tangy pulp, cherished for its culinary versatility across the globe.

Tamarind pulp is used fresh or processed into juice, brine, jams, or sweets. Tamarind seed flour is used in baking, while its flowers and leaves enhance dishes like salads, soups, stews, and curries.

The tamarind plant is also used in traditional or folk medicine in tropical regions, especially in Bangladesh, India, Sudan, and Nigeria. It’s known for its nutritional content, especially its protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, alongside a number of other beneficial plant compounds.

Keep reading to learn about the potential health benefits, nutritional facts, and creative ways to incorporate tamarind into the diet.

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Plant foods, like fruits and vegetables, contain antioxidants that help prevent or reduce damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can harm cells, a process called “oxidative damage,” which can contribute to conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Free radicals can come from various sources, including natural processes in the body, as well as tobacco, pollution, and UV rays.

Tamarind has high levels of phenolic compounds, which are good-for-you plant substances with antioxidant properties. Research shows that tamarind flesh contains more phenolic content compared to other fruits like avocado, jackfruit, mango, and longan. Antioxidants are also present in tamarind’s pulp and leaves.

Studies examining tamarind’s potential health benefits have mostly been conducted in laboratories and with animals (not in humans). Researchers have observed that a substance called PST001a, found in tamarind seed kernels, could fight against tumors. Plant compounds in tamarind, like flavonoids and tannins, have been shown to lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

In a study involving human participants with glaucoma, an antioxidant supplement including tamarind and other components effectively lowered oxidative stress levels in those with elevated levels. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an excessive amount of harmful free radicals in the body. However, since this study didn’t include a placebo group and had few participants, more research is needed. However, researchers think this antioxidant supplement could help delay or prevent glaucoma.

These are just a few examples of the areas in which tamarind is being studied for its potential health benefits. Further research, particularly in humans, is necessary to fully understand tamarind’s various compounds and their role in human health.

Inflammation is a medical term describing a set of signs and symptoms including swelling, redness, warmness, pain, and loss of function (stiffness and immobility). It’s the body’s natural response to things like injuries, chemicals, or germs that can harm tissues.

In addition to its antioxidant activity, researchers have discovered compounds in tamarind that have anti-inflammatory properties.

In a 90-day study, researchers looked at how an herbal treatment made of tamarind and turmeric extracts affected 90 people experiencing knee pain and joint discomfort after physical activity. The participants in this study did not have arthritis. Participants were given either 250 milligrams (mg) or 400 mg of the herbal medicine, or a placebo.

The study results showed that participants who received the herbal therapy experienced significant relief from knee pain following a walking and stair climb test. They also demonstrated an improved average walking speed and knee flexibility. Additionally, the herbal treatment was well-tolerated, with no major adverse effects noted.

The study findings suggest that the new herbal treatment, made of anti-inflammatory-potent tamarind and turmeric extracts, may alleviate post-exercise pain and improve overall performance.

Tamarind is a valuable source of essential nutrients, including magnesium and thiamin (vitamin B1), providing 26% and 43% of the daily value (DV) or recommended intake for these nutrients respectively. Additionally, tamarind is a good source of iron, meeting 19% of the DV for this essential mineral.

Magnesium plays a crucial role in more than 300 bodily functions, including blood pressure and blood sugar control, muscle and nerve function, and energy production. Despite its presence in various foods, many individuals in the U.S. do not consume sufficient magnesium, which can lead to a deficiency. Notably, low magnesium intake may result in early symptoms such as decreased appetite, nausea, and weakness.

Thiamin, on the other hand, aids in converting food into energy and supports the proper growth and development of cells.

While most people in the U.S. consume adequate amounts of thiamin, iron deficiency remains a concern in certain groups with higher iron needs or factors affecting absorption. These groups include infants, children, teenage girls, and individuals who are pregnant or in perimenopause. Medical conditions such as cancer, gastrointestinal disorders or surgery, and heart failure can also increase the risk of iron deficiency.

Iron is important for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron deficiency symptoms can manifest in various ways, including gastrointestinal discomfort, weakness, fatigue, impaired immune function, and difficulties regulating body temperature.

Dietary guidelines emphasize meeting nutritional needs primarily through food intake and supplementing when necessary. Therefore, incorporating tamarind alongside other nutritious foods can be beneficial in meeting nutrient requirements and potentially preventing deficiencies.

Just a half-cup of tamarind pulp gives you 11% of the recommended daily value (DV) for fiber, while a whole cup provides 22%. This is important because many Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diet, eating less than half of what’s recommended. Adding tamarind to the diet can help meet fiber needs. For women, experts suggest aiming for about 25 grams (g) of fiber per day, while men should aim for around 38 g.

Found in plant foods, fiber helps with digestion and can prevent constipation and normalize bowel movements. Research also suggests a high-fiber diet can help with weight loss, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

The following nutrition information is for a one-cup (120 g) serving of tamarind pulp:

  • Calories: 287
  • Protein: 3.36 g
  • Fat: 0.72 g
  • Carbohydrate: 75 g
  • Fiber: 6.12 g (22% of the DV)
  • Calcium: 88.8 milligrams (mg) (7% of DV)
  • Iron: 3.36 mg (19% of the DV)
  • Magnesium: 110 mg (26% of the DV)
  • Phosphorus: 136 mg (11% of the DV)
  • Potassium: 754 mg (16% of the DV)
  • Copper: 0.103 mg (11% of the DV)
  • Thiamin (vitamin B1): 0.514 mg (43% of the DV)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 0.152 mg (12% of the DV)
  • Niacin (vitamin B3): 1.94 mg (12% of the DV)

Tamarind is packed with carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, and thiamin. It’s also low in fat, has a bit of protein, and provides a good amount (at least 10% to 19%) of iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and other B vitamins.

One cup of tamarind pulp contains 287 calories, primarily from carbohydrates in the form of natural sugars, which is typical of fruits. It’s important to differentiate this from added sugars, which dietary guidelines recommend limiting due to their potential health risks such as weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. Added sugars, unlike natural sugars found in fruits, are incorporated into foods and beverages, including sugar-sweetened drinks, desserts, and sweet snacks.

Studies in animals show that tamarind seed extract might affect how antidiabetic medications work, possibly lowering fasting blood sugar levels. If you take these medications and eat tamarind, make sure to check your blood sugar often and adjust your medication if necessary. Talk to a healthcare provider for personalized medical advice.

Due to its ability to lower fasting blood sugar levels, patients taking medicinal doses of tamarind are recommended to stop its consumption at least two weeks before scheduled surgery.

Taking tamarind fruit extract as a component of millet porridge at the same time as aspirin or ibuprofen can make the body absorb more of these medicines and increase their levels in the blood. It’s probably best to avoid taking tamarind fruit extract at the same time as aspirin or ibuprofen to prevent potential interactions.

Tamarind can be purchased as fresh or dried whole pods at Asian grocery stores or online in dried form. Tamarind paste made from tamarind pulp is also available in jars online. Store tamarind pods in a cool, dark location, away from direct sunlight.

To enjoy tamarind, it’s important to understand how to consume it. Begin by holding the tamarind pod in your hand and gently bending it until it breaks open, revealing the pulp and seeds within. You can then simply suck or chew on the pulp, being mindful to spit out the seeds.

Tamarind pulp can also be easily separated from the seeds and used in various recipes. Remove the seeds from the pulp by hand or with a spoon, and then you can use the pulp in dishes like sauces, marinades, curries, chutneys, desserts, and drinks.

Because of its tangy flavor profile, tamarind can be used as a substitute for lemon in recipes.

The food industry uses tamarind seeds to make a stabilizer called “jellose.” This is added to foods like cheese, ice cream, and mayonnaise because it helps them thicken and hold together. Tamarind kernel powder is made from tamarind seeds and used in other industries like making paper, textiles, and jute products.

Tamarind is a tropical fruit known for its sweet and tangy taste. It has a great amount of antioxidants and nutrients such as fiber and magnesium. While research on tamarind is still emerging, it suggests potential benefits in reducing oxidative stress and combating inflammation.

Tamarind can be enjoyed on its own or incorporated into both sweet and savory dishes. Interestingly, it also finds applications in diverse industries beyond food.

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