Featured Food: Tamarind

February 18, 2019
By: Coral Dabarera Edelson, MS, RD


Tamarind: An Internationally Beloved Fruit

What is tamarind?

Though often thought of as a fruit, tamarind is a pod-like legume produced from the Tamarindus indica tree. The pulp of the pod as well as the seeds and leaves of the tree are edible. Tamarindus indica is indigenous to Africa, but its fruit is found all around the world in African, Caribbean, Latin American, and Asian cuisines and traditional medicines.

It is a beloved treat eaten raw, and an ingredient in beverages, curries, chutneys, sauces, and desserts. Tamarind’s sweet and sour yet savory flavor is extolled by culinary superstar chef Yotam Ottelenghi as one of his “secret ingredients” for “injecting savory flavor into your cooking.” (1).

Tamarind can be purchased in raw pod form, a paste, or in a block of pulp. It's also found in supplements and powdered form. Candied tamarind is a popular treat. In addition, Tamarind has been researched as a treatment in a variety of conditions, including hyperlipidemia and type 2 diabetes.

Can tamarind be a part of a healthy diet?

Tamarind contains vitamins A, C, E and K. It is also a source of magnesium. Three 3” x 1” pods (about how much one could eat in a sitting) provides 6 mg magnesium, 14 kcals, and 3 g sugar. One quarter cup serving of raw tamarind pulp provides 27.5 mg or 7-8% DV of magnesium (2). Tamarind is an ingredient in many culture’s traditional medicines.

Tamarind and Heart Health

One study conducted on hamsters with high cholesterol that were fed diets with tamarind fruit extract experienced decreases in serum triglyceride, LDL-C and total cholesterol (3). Another study found that obesity-induced rats experienced a decrease in body weight, serum cholesterol, and triglycerides and a significant increase in HDL-cholesterol after being treated with an ethanolic extract of tamarind (4).

Tamarind and Type 2 Diabetes

Tamarind has been used in traditional medicines to treat diabetes in a variety of cultures, including in Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, and India (5 , 6). One study in diabetes-induced rats found that when treated with seed extract of tamarind, β-cell cells of the pancreas appeared to function better, and a positive correlation with insulin release was observed after 4 weeks (7). Another study found similar results after 14 days with an ethanolic seed extract of tamarind in diabetes-induced rats (8).

Tamarind holds a promising future for clinical applications, is a beloved ingredient in many cultures foods and medicines, and is delicious! Pick up a jar of tamarind paste at your local grocery store or Asian or Latin American market, and try adding it to a favorite recipe for an unexpected pop of flavor.


  1. Thomson, J. (2014, October 17). Ottolenghi's New Book 'Plenty More' Was Worth The Wait, And We Have Recipes To Prove It.
  2. Basic Report, Tamarinds, Raw.” USDA Food Composition Databases, 2018.
  3. Lim, C., Junit, S., Aziz, A., Jayapalan, J., & Hashim, O. (2018). The hypolipidemic effects of Tamarindus indica fruit pulp extract in normal and diet‐induced hypercholesterolemic hamsters are associated with altered levels of serum proteins. ELECTROPHORESIS39(23), 2965–2973.
  4. Jindal, V., Dhingra, D., Sharma, S., Parle, M., & Harna, R. (2011). Hypolipidemic and weight reducing activity of the ethanolic extract of Tamarindus indica fruit pulp in cafeteria diet- and sulpiride-induced obese rats. Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics2(2), 80–84.
  5. Ebifa-Othieno, E., Mugisha, A., Nyeko, P., & Kabasa, J. (2017). Knowledge, attitudes and practices in tamarind (Tamarindus indica L) use and conservation in Eastern Uganda. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine13(1), 5.
  6. Lans, C. (2006). Ethnomedicines used in Trinidad and Tobago for urinary problems and diabetes mellitus. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine2, 45.
  7. Sole, S., Srinivasan, B., & Akarte, A. (2013). Anti-inflammatory action of Tamarind seeds reduces hyperglycemic excursion by repressing pancreatic β-cell damage and normalizing SREBP-1c concentration. Pharmaceutical Biology, 51(3), 350–360.
  8. Bhadoriya, S., Ganeshpurkar, A., Bhadoriya, R., Sahu, S., & Patel, J. (2018). Antidiabetic potential of polyphenolic-rich fraction of Tamarindus indica seed coat in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, 29(1), 37–45.