Tamarind is a fruiting tree native to Africa and widely planted throughout the world, particularly in Latin America and Asia. The fruit is used as a food crop and as a flavoring ingredient in a wide range of foods, especially Latin American and Asian cuisine and pre-packaged snacks. It is also sometimes known as asam or puli.
The tamarind tree can grow in excess of 60 feet (20 meters) in most tropical climates. Although best suited for tropical climates with a dry season, it can also do well in high-rainfall tropical environments. It is cultivated widely for its use as a food, requiring little fertilization or upkeep to thrive.
The pulp of the fruit is the main portion of tamarind used in food production. When still slightly unripe, it has a very sharp, sour taste with a high level of acidity. Unripe fruit is used in many candies and dishes throughout Asia and Latin America. The popularity of tamarind candies in the United States and Europe is considerably less, due to a general trend towards sugary-sweet candies.
When riper, tamarind becomes much sweeter and may be used in preparing a number of different desserts or sweet drinks. It is also used as a spice in curries, for which purpose it is particularly popular in parts of India. Although not native to India, the plant was introduced from Africa so long ago that many people consider it a native species, and its staple place in the diet reflects this.
Although not terribly common in European and American cuisine, tamarind still sees some use. Worcestershire sauce is perhaps the most well-known product that uses the fruit, and it plays an integral part in creating the sauce’s unique taste. There also seems to be an expanding market for it in general cooking, with packets of tamarind sauce becoming more readily available in mainstream grocery stores in the United States.
In addition to the use of the pulp as a food crop, other parts of the tree are used for medicinal purposes throughout the world. The bark and leaves, for example, may be made into teas with a wide range of uses, most notably as an herbal treatment for malaria-induced fever.