Tamarind pulp is a souring agent harvested from the fruit of the tamarind pod. It is formed into cakes and sold as a flavorful ingredient for use in various styles of cooking. Asian cuisine, Latin American Cuisine, and African cuisine all utilize the unique sweet-and-sour tang of tamarind pulp.
The word "tamarind" comes from the Arabic term meaning "Indian date." The tamarind tree produces large pods, and it is from these pods that the tamarind fruit is culled. The husk is stripped off, the fruit is compressed, and tamarind pulp is packaged for sale.
Tamarind pulp is widely available in Asian markets and specialty food stores. It is often labeled as tamarind concentrate or tamarind juice, but it is actually not juice at all. The pulp is nothing more than a very highly concentrated version of tamarind juice. It is sold in dense, stringy blocks either with or without the seeds. The pulp is also available in jars, pre-made and ready to use.
Tamarind pulp is relatively easy to prepare, and it is often a much more economical way to enjoy the flavor without buying a prepackaged tamarind product. When preparing the pulp at home, cooks typically use a ratio of 1 ounce (28 g) pulp to 1 ounce (28 g) water. After soaking the pulp in the water for approximately 20 minutes, it can be mashed up with the fingers and put through a sturdy strainer to remove the seeds and fibers.
The tangy taste of tamarind pulp gives many dishes their unique flavor. The Thai cuisine favorite Pad Thai utilizes the zing of tamarind pulp to accompany the trace of lime juice and the saltiness of fish sauce. In certain parts of Thailand, tamarind pulp is also used in a popular sweet and sour sauce that is poured over fried fish.
In Indian cookery, tamarind pulp is celebrated for its biting sour taste. It is an integral part of many types of chutney, along with sugar and various other spices. Tamarind is frequently used in several kinds of curry as well.
For centuries, Africans have utilized tamarind as a valuable source of nutrition and also a profitable export. The cuisines of Kenya, Madagascar, and Nigeria all make use of tamarind pulp's signature taste. It is also a favorite of many of the native animals of the continent, including Ring-tailed Lemurs, who get half of their food supply from the fruits of the tamarind tree.