Tamarind sauce has a flavor profile that is both familiar and exotic. The base of any tamarind sauce is the pulp of the tamarind fruit, either as a paste, as a juice, or as a concentrate. The flavor of tamarind is both sweet and sour, and it is a main component in pad Thai sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and in many marinades, barbeque sauces, chutneys, and curry sauces. In addition to being part of complex dishes, tamarind sauce can be used by itself as a dipping sauce for appetizers.
The tropical tamarind tree, Tamarindus indica, is native to Africa, and is distantly related to the carob tree. It was later introduced to India and Mexico, and can be grown in many tropical climates. The migration of the tamarind tree from Africa to Asia and Latin America is mirrored in its migration to different cuisines. It is a featured flavor in African, Indian, Asian, and Latin American cuisines.
The seed pods of the tamarind tree contain the pulp, which is reddish brown when ripe. The pulp can be dehydrated to make a concentrated paste, dried and ground into powder, dried to make candy, or be processed into juice. The complex fruity and tangy flavor of tamarind has been described as being like a sour date, and tamarind is also known as an Indian date. Tamarind pulp is both acidic and sugary, with a pleasing balance of sweet and sour. While the sugar content of the fruit is high, tamarind pulp does have nutritional value, and it contains good amounts of vitamin B and calcium.
Indian, Asian, and specialty food stores carry various forms of tamarind pulp, premade tamarind sauces, and the ingredients needed to make popular tamarind-flavored dishes from scratch. Tamarind pulp does contain seeds, which need to be removed prior to cooking. Many commercially available forms of tamarind have been processed to remove seeds. Bricks of pulp with seeds are available in some stores; these will need to be soaked in warm water to rehydrate them in order to remove seeds and inedible fiber.
The simplest form of a tamarind sauce is the straight puree of the fruit, while more complex sauces incorporate a number of other ingredients. The flavors of tamarind pair especially well with chilies. The tartness of tamarind means that it can be used in many dishes where lemon juice or other acidic components are required. Tamarind is often recommended as a substitute for balsamic vinegar. Recipes for tamarind sauce, and for other sauces and dishes that use tamarind as an ingredient, can be found online and in cookbooks.