History and Fruit
A tamarind tree is very large (up to 100 feet tall) and grows very slowly. It is native to Africa but grows well in any tropical climate. It bears fruits that are around 6 inches in length and look like a large, curved bean pod. Young tamarind fruit has a pliable brown skin and the inside greenish with whitish seeds. As the fruit matures the greenish insides turn brown and the pod becomes more bulbous. As the fruit dries out, the pod becomes stiff and brittle,the insides become pasty and the seeds turn brown.
Tamarind in Mexico
Jalisco, Guerrero, Colima, Chiapas and Veracruz are the top tamarind producers in Mexico. Most trees are planted for the fruit, but some are planted as shade trees because they are so wide. Tamarind fruit flavor is very popular and is used to flavor many foods and candies.
Preparing the Tamarind
The quickest way to get to the pulp is to break the shell by hand and remove the sticky pulp with your fingers. For commercial usage, the entire pod is boiled to soften the outer shell, then it is ground up with water and strained so that the pulp is removed from the bits of shell and seed. The pulp is then canned for later sale.
The flavor of the greenish unripened tamarind is very watery, acidic and very sour. The ripened sticky pulp has a musky flavor and is sweet and sour due to the sugars and the acid content.
The ripe tamarind pulp has many uses. Some recipes call for the pulp to be removed from the pod first, and others allow soaking in the cooking liquid and breaking the pod open in the liquid to release the pulp, then straining the mixture to remove the pieces of the outer shell. Tamarind can be added to soups, marinades or sweets.