Tamarind is a delicious sour spice that is used in curries to give a delicious sour/tart taste. Tamarind is also an essential ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce.
Tamarind is extracted from the pods of the evergreen tamarind tree, which is a tropical tree that originated in east Africa. The pods are pretty big, with full grown pods usually being between 7.5cm and 15cm (3inches and 6 inches) long. The main tamarind tree cultivation now takes place in India and the tamarind tree is grown successfully in a number of tropical locations, such as Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Florida and northern Brazil.
The tamarind pods have a brown, sticky, pulp that is extracted and squeezed into flat blocks.
These blocks are used to produce tamarind water, tamarind paste and tamarind concentrate.
Tamarind itself does not have much of an aroma and its main attribute is that it has sour/tart and fruity taste.
Tamarind is added to curries (such as vindaloo), as well as pickles and chutneys, to make best use of the sour taste in either balancing sweetness or giving an overriding sour/tart taste. If you are following a recipe that calls for lemon juice then try substituting tamarind extract/water to get a bit more bite.
Tamarind sauce, served in Indian restaurants as an accompaniment, is made by diluting tamarind concentrate with water (it is just tamarind extract/water).
Probably the most confusing thing about tamarind is how tamarind is sold. Generally speaking, you can buy tamarind as fresh pods, in a block, as a concentrate, as a paste and as an extract (as an extract usually means as tamarind water).
The following details are only a guide to creating tamarind extract/water and you need to experiment and adapt to find the strength of tamarind that you like to use in your cooking.
If using a block of tamarind, cut off an amount that would fit into a level tablespoon and chop it into small pieces, put it into a small glass bowl, add 1/2 cup (125ml or 4 fl oz) of boiling water and leave for 30 minutes, stirring after every 5 minutes (crush the solid with the back of a spoon, as well as stirring). Then pour the mixture through a fine sieve, pushing the tamarind though the sieve with the back of a spoon until just fibres and seeds are left in the sieve. Discard the fibres and seeds that are left in the sieve. You will have 1/2 cup of tamarind extract.
If using tamarind paste, take 60g (2 oz) of paste, chop it into small pieces, put it into a small glass bowl, add 1/2 cup (125ml or 4 fl oz) of boiling water, leave soaking for 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes (crush the solid with the back of a spoon, as well as stirring). Pour the mixture through a fine sieve, pushing the tamarind though the sieve with the back of a spoon until just fibres and seeds are left in the sieve. Discard the fibres and seeds that are left in the sieve. You will have 1/2 cup of tamarind extract.
If using tamarind concentrate, mix 1 level tablespoon of in 1/2 cup (125ml or 4 fl oz) of boiling water and stir continuously until all of the concentrate is dissolved. You will have 1/2 cup of tamarind extract.
I searched high and low for details of how to convert tamarind pods into tamarind extract. Essentially what you do is remove the pod skin and the strings/threads that attach the fresh to the pod skin, put the tamarind fruit flesh into a large saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil, boil for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to cool, whisk the tamarind and liquid to break up the fruit, pour the liquid through a fine sieve and push the tamarind through the sieve (with the back of a spoon) until just fibres and seeds are left in the sieve (discard these solids). That’s as much information as I could find – there was a indication that you needed to add more water to dilute the tamarind but no quantity was mentioned and there was no statement as to how much tamarind extract you would get. As you can see, there is no initial quantity of pods to use. So making tamarind extract from pods is going to need a bit of trial and error.
Whatever you use as a starting ingredient (pod, block, paste or concentrate), you’ll need to experiment so that you find the strength and taste that you like.
If you have any leftover tamarind extract, once you’ve finished your cooking, you can keep it in a sealed container in the fridge for about 2 weeks.