Tamarind (ma khaam) is the fruit of large lacy-leaf trees common in many tropical areas around the world. When the seed pods are young they are green, but they turn reddish-brown as they ripen. Inside the curved seed pods, the flesh of the tamarind fruit is dark brown, moist and sticky. Tamarind trees are so widespread and easily grown that tamarind has found its way into African, Asian and American cuisines.
In Thailand, the tamarind tree is grown for its fruit and the shade that the tree provides. Thai people use many parts from the tamarind in cooking including the fresh leaves, flowers and the seed pods. The fresh leaves are used in soups, like Tom Klong Pla Kroab and Pork and pumpkin in coconut soup, or as a dipping vegetable for chili dips. The content in the ripe pods provides a sour and sweet taste in food and soups, as well as tamarind candies. Even tamarind seeds can be roasted to make a drink similar to coffee.
There are several varieties of tamarind. The province of Petchaboon in northeastern Thailand is known for its sweet tamarind (ma-kahm wahn). This variety is usually eaten fresh as a fruit. Other varieties produce tart fruits that vary from sweet-and-sour to very sour. The less sour ones – removed from their brittle pods and coated with a mixture of salt, sugar and crushed chillies – make excellent tamarind candies to nibble on. For cooking, sour varieties of tamarind are used as a souring agent that adds a pleasant fruity taste and also tenderizes.
Tamarind Use in Thai Food
– Beef Masaman
– Phad Thai
– Boiled Prawns in Tamarind