Tamarind has been used for medicinal purposes in Asian culture for centuries. This delicious sweet and sour fruit is rich in phytochemicals that provide numerous medicinal properties. It improves digestion, boosts the immune system, promotes heart health, and helps improve ulcers.
What is tamarind?
Tamarind (Tamarindus indica L) is a large evergreen tree that is native to Africa. The name tamarind is derived from Arabic ‘Tamar Hindi’ which means ‘Indian date.’ This leguminous tree (Fabaceae family) produces a pod-like fruit that contains a brown edible pulp. When it is young, the pod is green, and the ripe pod has juicy flesh, which is sweet and sour. Tamarind is widely used in various cuisines in Asia, Middle East, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is also used traditionally to treat digestive ailments. Tamarind paste can also be used to polish copper and bronze.
History of tamarind
Tamarind is native to tropical Africa, but it has been grown for so long in the Indian subcontinent that many people wrongly believe that it is native to this region. It grows wild in Africa in countries like Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Zambia, and Tanzania. Tamarind reached South Asia through humans transportation several thousand years BC.
In the sixteenth century, it was introduced to Mexico and South America by Spanish and Portuguese colonists, and it became a staple ingredient in the local cuisine over the years. Today, India is the largest producer of tamarind.
Nutrition facts of tamarind
One cup (120 grams) of raw tamarind pulp contains (1) –
- Calories: 287
- Carbohydrates: 75 grams
- Fiber: 6.1 grams
- Sugars: 68.9 grams
- Proteins: 3.4 grams
- Thiamine: .5 mg (34% DV)
- Niacin: 2.3 mg (12% DV)
- Riboflavin: .2 mg (11% DV)
- Vitamin C: 4.2 mg (7% DV)
- Magnesium: 110 mg (28% DV)
- Potassium: 753 mg (22% DV)
- Iron: 3.4 mg (19% DV)
- Phosphorus: 134 mg (14% DV)
- Calcium: 88.8 mg (9% DV)
Tamarind also contains other beneficial phytochemicals like limonene, geraniol, safrole, cinnamic acid, methyl salicylate, and pyrazine.
Health benefits of tamarind
1. Boosts digestive health
Tamarind has been used as a laxative in folk medicine for hundreds of years. The fruit pulp of tamarind contains high amounts of malic and tartaric acids and potassium acids, which provide it with laxative properties (2). The fruit, leaves, bark, and even the roots of this plant are used in various cultures to treat abdominal pain-related complaints (3). Tamarind contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, so it helps treat both constipation as well as diarrhea.
2. Improves heart health
Tamarind can help get rid of several heart health-related issues. The high fiber content of tamarind helps to lower LDL cholesterol. It also contains polyphenols like flavonoids, which can help reduce cholesterol levels. According to a 2013 study, tamarind fruit pulp has potential antioxidative effects and is protective against diet-induced hypercholesterolemia (4).
The potassium content of tamarind helps to reduce blood pressure. Tamarind also contains vitamin C, an antioxidant that fights free radicals that may lead to heart disease.
3. Helps manage diabetes
Tamarind contains an enzyme called alpha-amylase inhibitor, which acts as an anti-nutrient. It obstructs the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. So, by delaying the absorption of glucose through the inhibition of carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes in the digestive tract, tamarind can be used for the treatment and control of diabetes (5).
According to a 2004 study from India, tamarind seed extracts have an anti-diabetic effect that reduces blood sugar levels in diabetic rats (6).
4. Improves circulation
Tamarind is rich in potassium, which helps control blood pressure and heart rate by maintaining healthy fluid balance in the body. It is also rich in iron, which is good for the blood. Iron plays a vital role in the production and development of red blood cells, which helps all the organs and muscles to function well. Consuming enough iron also helps to fight against anemia and other symptoms like headaches, fatigue, cognitive disorders, and stomach problems.
5. Improves nerve function
Tamarind also helps to improve nerve function. Tamarind is rich in the vitamin B complex. Thiamine, an essential part of the B vitamin family, helps to stimulate nerve function and improve muscle development. It also helps you to improve reflexes, remain active and healthy. Tamarind seeds also contain xyloglucan, which aids nerve regeneration (7).
6. Boosts immunity
Tamarind is rich in vitamin C and many other antioxidants that help boost immunity. It contains natural compounds that have antimicrobial properties (8). It also has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Studies have shown that tamarind bark extract is effective against salmonella. Its leaves are also used in malaria treatment. The tannins found in tamarind have an antiparasitic effect. It helps eliminate the worms in children in tropical areas (9).
7. Weight loss
Tamarind contains a compound called hydroxycitric acid, which helps inhibit the enzyme that is responsible for fat storage in the body. It also boosts the levels of serotonin in the body, which helps in suppressing appetite. A 2011 research that studied the effect of tamarind extract on obese rats found that tamarind extract has a significant weight-reducing effect and hypolipidemic effect (10).
Another study from Japan found that tamarind extract improves obesity-related parameters in blood, liver, and adipose tissue in a rat model and suppresses obesity by regulating lipid metabolism and lowering plasma leptin (11).
The leaves of the tamarind plant contain two triterpenes –Lupone and lupeol (12). According to a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lupeol possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties (13). Tamarind, when used as an essential oil, can reduce pain in the joints, arthritis, gout, and even rheumatic conditions. It also helps to reduce irritation in the eyes caused by infections like conjunctivitis.
9. Liver protective effects
Alcohol consumption and other environmental factors can lead to liver toxicity. Tamarind leaves also show anti-apoptotic and liver-protective results according to studies. During a 2007 study, researchers observed that tamarind extracts have a protective effect against paracetamol-induced hepatotoxicity in rats (14). The researchers also noted that flavonoids, ascorbic acid, and beta-carotene present in tamarind have a protective effect on the liver due o their antioxidant properties.
10. Protects skin
Tamarind xyloglucan has immunoprotective and DNA protective effects against ultraviolet damage. Studies suggest that this natural additive compound from tamarind can be added to sunscreens to protect the skin’s immune system against UV damage (15). Mixtures made from the leaves and the bark of the tamarind trees have also been used traditionally to heal wounds.
11. Prevents peptic ulcers
Peptic ulcers are sores that can develop on the inner lining of your stomach or the upper portion of the small intestine. Research shows that tamarind seed extract has a protective effect against peptic ulcers and can be used in their treatment (16).
Tamarind seed extracts contain polyphenolic compounds like procyanidin, epicatechin, and polymeric tannins. These compounds include antioxidant and protective properties. Tannins cause protein accumulation and vasoconstriction, which prevents the development of ulcers.
Side effects of tamarind
Though tamarind is generally safe when used in food quantities, it can have some side effects. It is a blood thinner and can lower your blood pressure. If you are already taking a blood thinner, then you need to be careful about the amount of tamarind that you are consuming.
Tamarind also lowers your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes and take medication for it, using tamarind may require you to adjust your medicine. Taking tamarind with aspirin may increase the amount of aspirin absorbed; this could increase the side effects of aspirin. Similarly, tamarind also increases the amount of ibuprofen absorbed in the body.
Uses of tamarind
Tamarind is used for cooking, medication, and household purposes.
- It is used in several herbal medications.
- The essential oil of tamarind is used for health purposes.
- It is dried and used as a spice in various dishes.
- Tamarind is used to make candies.
- It is also used to make jam and sauces.
- In Asian cooking, people add it to soups and salads.
- In Indian cuisine, tamarind is used to make chutney.
- It is used to polish copper and bronze items.
Tamarind is a large, evergreen tree that is native to Africa. This leguminous tree produces a pod-like fruit that contains a brown edible pulp. When it is young, the pod is green, and the ripe pod has juicy flesh, which is sweet and sour. It is rich in vitamins and minerals like thiamine, vitamin C, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Tamarind also contains other beneficial phytochemicals like limonene, geraniol, safrole, cinnamic acid, methyl salicylate, and pyrazine. The fruit, leaves, bark, and even the roots of this tree have medicinal properties that can treat many ailments.
It boosts digestive health, improves heart health, improves circulation, manages diabetes, improves nerve function, boosts immunity, protects the liver, helps in weight loss, prevents peptic ulcers, and protects skin against UV damage. However, use tamarind with caution if you are taking medication for diabetes or blood thinners. Tamarind can also increase the absorption of aspirin and ibuprofen.