Sampalok or tamarind also called “Indian Date” (Tamar-hindi) is probably the most popular fruit in the Philippines that is used primarily as a condiment. The fruits are used as a souring agent when young or unripe, and eaten as snacks when mature or ripe. The leaves or the young shoots could also be used as a souring ingredient especially for fish. I remember my Mom used to line a clay pot or “palayok” with the leaves of tamarind and put the fish on top, with little salt and water, put the cover and the fish will be steamed perfectly and come out so delicious. Simple cooking but really outstanding taste.
I remember when I was in high school, I lived with my cousins in Iba. My Aunt, I call her Mama, has two huge tamarind trees in the backyard and we used to climb up the tree and shake it so the ripened fruits will fall down and we gathered them for snacks. The tamarind tree can grow up to 80 ft. high and my Aunt’s tamarind trees are like that.
The tree has a feathery foliage just like acacia tree and bears small red and yellow flowers. Tamarind is a distant relative to string beans and a member of the pea family. It is native to tropical Africa and Southeast Asia. The cinnamon brown tamarind pods are three to six inches long depending on the variety, and they hung on clusters on the tree. Large pods have small seeds and pulps that are extremely sour. Used in east India and the Middle East as a souring agent too just like lemon juice. Indians use tamarind in most of their cooking like chutneys, curries and preserves.
We also make candies and preserves or jams with the ripe tamarinds. We also call it Tamarindo from the Spanish. When cooking with the unripe tamarinds, put them in a pot with boiling water and let it soak until tender. Remove them from the pot, place in a bowl and mash them. Put some boiling water in the bowl and stir a little and then strain the pulps. The water would be so sour and good to use for “sinigang”, one of our popular recipes. In this “sinigang” you can use pork, beef, fish or shrimp. All of them would be delicious especially when added with a little spice from hot peppers.
The tamarind is not particular in soil requirements, drought tolerant and can even tolerate salt spray from the seashore. It can be grown from seed but also by cuttings, grafting or air layering.
Did you know that tamarind is one of the most important ingredient in manufacturing Worcestershire Sauce? Now you know. Amazing!