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Tamarind: Cooking with Asian ingredients at home

Foraging for exciting Asian ingredients readily available in Singapore to discover their traditional uses, health benefits and ways to incorporate them into Western home cooking.


This month’s ingredient: Tamarind Aliases: Indian Date

What is it?

The tamarind takes its name from the Arabic tamarhindi, meaning Indian date. This legume-like fruit grows on the tall, tropical evergreen tamarind tree. The tamarind pod is green when immature; as it ripens it becomes fatter and longer, growing anywhere up to 15cm, its curved, brittle outer shell changing colour to a sandy brown. The edible stringy pulp is reddish brown, enclosing large flat black seeds. 

The flavour

Unripe tamarind is sour, very acidic and largely inedible as is, but can be used in spicy dishes and pickles. When ripe, the fruit, which is high in both acid and fructose, has an exotic, sweet-sour taste with a refreshing tanginess and a dense, sticky texture.

Where to find it

It’s available fresh when in season, but extracted tamarind is also found in supermarkets and in the spice sections of wet markets. It comes as a pressed slab of paste, often with the seeds intact (add hot water, mash and extract the seeds to use the pulp juice), or as a jam-like bottled concentrate (ready-to-use), or as dried pods.


• UK and US – in Worcester sauce and HP brown sauce.

• India – in South Indian food as a souring, seasoning or pickling ingredient instead of lemon (more sour) or vinegar (sharper).

• Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Philippines and India – eaten as a candy with the addition of sugar (or salt in Mexico, spice in Thailand).

• Mexico (Agua de Tamarindo) and Bahamas (“Tamarind-ade”) – a refreshing drink of tamarind paste, water, sugar and sometimes spices.

• Bahamas, Brazil, Puerto Rico – tamarind syrup.

• Costa Rica – tamarind jam.

• Thailand – used in cooking. The inner seeds are roasted as a snack, or used as a coffee replacement.

Health benefits


• A good source of vitamins C and B, calcium and potassium.

• Considered a mild laxative and digestive.

• Used to treat bronchial disorders.

• Antiseptic: gargling with tamarind water is recommended for a sore throat. Used in eye baths and to treat ulcers.

• Prized in tropical countries for its cooling properties and ability to break a fever.

Seeds – powdered seeds are used against dysentery.

Bark – pulverised bark ash is used for colic and digestive disorders, or to treat asthma, dysentery and boils.

Leaves – used for stomach problems and to treat wounds and abscesses.

Roots – used to treat heart pains.


Cooking at home

The juice from the pulp adds an exotic sweet-tart element to sauces, salad dressings, marinades, curries, desserts and drinks.

Top tip

Being so acidic, tamarind is a great meat tenderiser in marinades.  It breaks down the fibres in pork or beef, but is better not used with fish or chicken as the acid can “cook” the meat, making it tough.  

Try it in town

All Thai restaurants use tamarind to impart sourness, one of the key flavour foundations of Thai cooking: sour, sweet, salty and spicy. KHA, at 38 Martin Road, uses tamarind in more unusual combinations, including an interesting dessert of khao niew dum (black sticky rice and date pudding, mango ice cream and tamarind caramel sauce $14).


Egg and Dairy Free Tamarind Coconut Ice Cream

A great recipe suitable for mums-to-be and those intolerant to dairy and eggs, thanks to the use of coconut cream and milk in place of the usual custard base. The coconut gives a creamy texture and a rich exotic flavour balanced by the tamarind’s tangy sweetness, its slightly sour finish leaving the palate refreshed. Guaranteed to bring a touch of the Asian spice route to your dinner table! Makes one litre of ice cream


2/3 cup caster sugar [designer: please use 2/3 as a fraction]

200ml coconut milk

400ml coconut cream

3 tablespoons tamarind paste (about 6 pods)

pinch of salt (note: tamarind paste may already include salt)

2 tablespoons of rum or vodka, to prevent ice crystals (optional)


1.Warm sugar, coconut milk, coconut cream, salt and tamarind until sugar has dissolved – take care not to boil.

2. Cool in an ice bath, sieve out any seeds and tamarind fibre and then refrigerate for at least six hours.

3. When chilled, place into your ice cream machine* and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

* TIP: You can make this without an ice cream machine by chilling and stirring ice crystals repeatedly until frozen.

4. Gently stir the rum or vodka into the semi-frozen ice cream. Freeze for at least one hour before serving.


Frozen Tamarind Margaritas

This is the quintessential summer drink, and as it’s summer in Singapore practically all year round, get ready to drink pitchers of this at balmy afternoon barbecues. Makes 2.


85ml Tequila Blanco

30ml Cointreau or Triple Sec

60ml tamarind (paste mixed with water)

30ml simple syrup

Ice cubes – enough to fill glass to ¾ full

Squeeze or two of lime to taste

To Decorate: 

Slice of lime

3 teaspoon salt (try pink Himalayan salt)

2 teaspoon sugar


• Rub the rim of the glasses with the slice of lime.

• Dip the glass rims in a dish with the salt and sugar to coat.

• Place the cocktail ingredients into a blender and process until the ice is crushed.

• Serve in salty-sweet-rimmed glasses, put your feet up and enjoy!