The small, brown seeds of tamarind are not just a rich source of protein but also versatile in use beyond food items
Every time I buy tamarind, my mother reminisces about how this sour pod-like fruit was a rare commodity in her village in western Uttar Pradesh. As a child, after eating the sweet pulp of the ripe pod, she would even consume the seeds — after roasting them overnight on the hot ashes of a chulha (stove).
The flat, glossy brown seeds of tamarind (Tamarindus indica) have a somewhat almond-like taste, with a tinge of bitterness. Raw seeds are slightly more bitter and difficult to chew because of a hard coating that encases the kernel.
Hence roasting on the stove, like my mother did, has been the traditional method of preparing the seeds, after which they are gently pounded on in a mortar and pestle so that the broken coat can be removed. Modern households, however, avoid the cumbersome process of preparing the seeds and opt for kernel flour that is easily available in the market.
Tamarind seeds are a part of many popular recipes, especially in southern India. In Karnataka, where the fruit is called hunase, the roasted kernels are soaked in buttermilk and salt for a day to soften them, so that they can be easily consumed as a snack.
In Maharashtra, tamarind or chinch seed flour is used to prepare dal vada, a fritter typically made from lentils. I have found that vadas made with this seed flour are crispier than those made just from urad or black gram. The versatile flour can be also used in baking or be simply added to roti dough to enrich it.
I also find the leaves of tamarind seedlings tasty. Instead of roasting the seeds, I plant them and wait for the young, sour leaves to add to dal and vegetable dishes.
Tamarind seeds are a rich source of protein and amino acids. In a May 2010 study published in the International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences, researchers from Bihar and Rajasthan analyse kernel flour prepared by roasting the seeds at 150°C for 15 minutes, and estimate that as much as 62.13 per cent is carbohydrate, 19.46 per cent of the kernel is protein and 2.32 per cent is fibre. The flour is rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium.
Also, in 2018, researchers with the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, said a protein found in the seeds, called tamarind chitinase-like lectin, has antiviral properties and can potentially be used to develop a drug against chikungunya. Their study was published in the journal Virology.
Further, a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences by researchers from India, the US and Norway says an extract of tamarind seeds and turmeric (Curcuma longa) rhizome could reduce knee pain and improve the musculoskeletal function in patients. This combination also helps reduce inflammation and inflammation-induced cartilage degeneration, says the study.
Apart from finding application in food, the seeds are also traditionally used for tanning leather. The Saura tribe in Odisha uses the brown colour of the seeds as a natural dye in paintings.
In 2022, researchers from India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia used the seeds to treat wastewater from a cheese factory. The team reported in the journal Chemosphere in October 2022 that polysaccharides in the seeds work as coagulants to remove the waste from the water.
Tamarind grows well in dry and water-stressed regions and is drought-resistant. Being part of the Fabaceae family, it has the ability to grow in poorly developed soils through nitrogen fixation. The plant can also grow well in coastal areas because of its ability to endure sea-salt aerosols.
Though genetic studies suggest that the tree may be native to Africa, it is found across Asia and Latin America. The widespread presence of the tamarind may be due to the likelihood that centuries ago, it was transported around the world in ships, as a part of sailors’ diets.
A 2017 article published on the website of US-based non-profit Science History Institute mentions an experiment where sailors were given barley water treated with tamarind to cure scurvy.
The fruit also has a rich history in India, present in the country at least since 1300 BCE, according to wood charcoal analysis. It also finds special place in the country’s heritage — the 23.06-hectare Nallur tamarind grove near Bengaluru, planted during the 12th century, has 278 tamarind trees — the oldest being around 410 years old. In 2007, the National Biodiversity Authority declared this grove as India’s first heritage site, representing a unique gene pool that needs to be conserved.
Recipe : Dal vadasIngredients
Soak urad dal in water for 30 minutes, then grind in a mixer with ginger, garlic and chillies to make a paste. Add tamarind seed flour, drumstick leaves and salt to the paste; mix well. Preheat the oil for frying. Take a small amount of the batter, shape it like a doughnut so that it cooks evenly, and fry it. Serve with chutney and other condiments.
This was first published in the 1-15 March, 2023 print edition of Down To Earth
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