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Posted on Apr 22, 2008 | 62 comments

How to eat whole tamarind

How to eat whole tamarind

How to peel a tamarind podNo, I haven’t lost my mind! That’s not poop in my son’s lunch! It’s little bits of whole tamarind fruit, which our friend from the French-African island of Reunion showed us how to eat. I’ve previously used blocks of tamarind pulp or paste as a souring agent when cooking Indian or Thai food, but had always shied away from the big packages of whole tamarind pods as I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. So when our friend Vincent brought out whole sweet tamarind pods at a dinner party last month, my three-year-old son and I were both fascinated. Bug inhaled them then, and laughingly asked that I pack the “unchi fruit” (poop fruit) in his bento lunch the next day. Here’s what I packed for my warped child, as well as a guide to eating whole tamarind.

Tamarind and waffle bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Waffle and maple syrup, sauteed yellow bell pepper in vinaigrette, wrapped cheese, grapes, and tamarind fruit.

Frozen wafflesMorning prep time: 7 minutes, using frozen waffles and leftover bell pepper. In the morning I toasted a frozen homemade waffle, cut up the waffles and peeled the tamarind pod. (Read on for the illustrated how-to and more lunch details.)

Packing: The moist bell pepper went into a reusable silicone baking cup to keep the wrapped cheese clean for finicky little hands, and the subcontainer in the upper tier kept the grapes and tamarind from rolling around. I put maple syrup into a little carrot-shaped sauce container that I picked up at Ichiban Kan discount store a while back (retail store info at my San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear, online store info at my Ichiban Kan online store review). The whole lunch was loosely packed in a Basis:1 two-tier 600ml bento box, which was admittedly too large for a three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines.

Verdict: Bug ate the waffle, cheese and grapes at preschool, and mangled the carrot-shaped sauce container by sucking and chewing on it, trying to extract every last bit of maple syrup (sigh). He did wind up leaving the bell peppers and tamarind despite having specially requested tamarind that morning. Maybe he got embarrassed once he opened it up in front of everyone; when I picked him up from preschool his teacher asked me what the brown thing was in his bento. I laughed and explained it to him, saying Bug had been really excited about it that morning. Anyway, he finished up the peppers and tamarind at home as a snack (I encourage him to finish his packed lunch before giving him other snacks). Tamarind is now an at-home treat, not a bento staple. ;-)

* * * * *

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I first encountered tamarind as a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce & HP sauce, giving them their slight pucker. As I grew older, I then used tamarind in Thai and Indian recipes, as a souring agent in curries and chutneys. After moving to San Francisco and exploring the Latin American markets in the Mission district, I became more familiar with tamarind as a flavoring for drinks and candies. This is the latest in my evolving relationship with tamarind — whole, as a snack.

Whole tamarind pods are covered with a hard shell that’s easily cracked in your hands. Note that one end is pointed and the other is round — you’ll be coming back to the pointed end soon.

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Crack open the shell with your hands, revealing the sticky fruit with little strings running through it.

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Here’s the naked tamarind pod with the strings still intact.

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Grasp the pointed end with your fingers and peel the strings down and away from the fleshy pod. All of the strings should come away still bunched together at the top, without much resistance.

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Behold the tamarind fruit and its little plant exoskeleton! The strings all came away neatly, with none remaining on the fruit.

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Inside of the tamarind fruit are several rock-hard seeds, covered by a softer edible coating. You can pop whole segments of the tamarind fruit into your mouth, chew around the seed, and spit the seed out. It was a novel and somewhat addictive experience.

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  1. @56 from vampyra1: Ooh score! Tamarindo candy! What brand?

  2. i heared eating tamarind can help the breast get bigger,is it true,does anybody know or experience it?

  3. @59 from seba: Bwah ha hah, I’d never heard that! Let us know if you’re able to confirm that rumor…

  4. I love your page. My daughter just started school and I’m very excited to pack her lunches. Here we looove tamarindo and you can buy it salted, sweet or with chile, spicy and good. You can make tamarindo water (tastes like a nice, fruitty tea) by boiling the fruit, shell and all. Then, when the water cools, you literally crush them with your (clean), bare hands. Strain the shell, string and seeds and add sugar to taste because it will be tart. When you pour it, move the pitcher because the pulp sets. It’s yummy!
    And no, tamarindo does not give you bigger boobs. ha ha ha

  5. Hello! I just bought some tamarinds to make chutney and I found your post.

    I bought in mine in the mission too… haha.

    Anyways, do you know if they are a 1:1 ration with recipes calling for tamarind pulp?

  6. I am looking for a recipe for tamarind balls. I like the spicy ones but can’t seem figure out the chili used. Can you Help?

  7. I was brought up in Fiji til I was 10 and I have been trying to find out for the past 40 years what this addictive and amazing fruit was but until today (and your website)Thanks!

  8. I reside in Northern Virginia, where in Fairfax Va can I buy really good Tamarind? I really enjoy snacking on them, only certain stores carry them. There is only one problem I have found so far, most of the ones I get are rotted inside, have bugs, dried out or some other fungal growth I can’t describe. Where is the best place to buy Tamarind’s? What time of the year is the best?

  9. hi i love the bento boxes you make for your son i wish my mom made these for me, hee hee she’ll probally look at this website and just go right back to packing me chips and a sandwhichXD

  10. I forgot the tamarinds for a couple of weeks in the food cabinet and when I found them they had while worms growing. urgh….

  11. I have always loved the tamarind chutney at my favorite Indian restaurant. While briefly living in southern AZ, I saw these growing along the banks of the canals. Someone told me they were tamarindo, but I really didn’t know what to do with them or if they could be eaten off the tree. Today, I am walking through the grocery section of my local big-box store and see them again. No label indicating that they are tamarind, but I decide to take a chance and come home and look it up online. I stumbled onto your site and “Voila!” Thanks SO much. Great instructions – never would have known what to do w/out you. Tastes SO tart and delicious!! You made my day!

  12. 1. the tamarind you wrote about is regarding the sweet tamarind correct? it will say sweet on the box?

    2. i agree with vixis who wrote:

    There is only one problem I have found so far, most of the ones I get are rotted inside, have bugs, dried out or some other fungal growth I can’t describe. Where is the best place to buy Tamarind’s? What time of the year is the best?

    where do you get quality whole pods that are the sour ones needed for indian cooking? not the overly overly sour immature ones the thai people use. i want the ones for indian cooking. i have had the same problems as mentioned above.

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