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The Tamarind Story

From Tree to Chutney.

The subject of tamarind trees was raised by  a friend recently so I thought I would cover the story of this tropical fruit today.

That tree on the right is a tamarind. It is growing on Gaun’s land at the farm. She tells stories of climbing it when she was a girl so it’s an old one (well not too old so as not to upset Gaun).

Tamarind is a hardwood tree known scientifically as Tamarindus indica. It’s native to Africa but also grows in India, Pakistan and many other tropical regions.

The tree produces bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by a fibrous pulp. The pulp of the young fruit is green and sour. As it ripens, the juicy pulp becomes paste-like and more sweet-sour.

Interestingly, tamarind is sometimes referred to as the “date of India.”

This information and more can be found HERE:

Last year’s fallen tamarind dried underneath. Seedlings to come.

These are in our garden at home. Having seen the pods you will recognise them from every local Thai market in season. You can also buy the pulp that has been processed into black blocks at stalls as well. Used in Asian cooking.

Ours are a good size. They get watered regularly so that might be making a difference.

Our tree is small, maybe five metres high. We won’t let it get too high as the last two we had in the garden were blown over in big storms. I wonder if you knew that tamarind is an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce (I didn’t before today).

Gaun is on the hunt for sour tamarind to make her delicious chutney, which is so good with cold meats. A village close to us called Ban Din Si On has lots of tamarind trees and we spotted these ladies working preparing the fruit for sale as we drove back from Nong Bua Lamphu last week.

Sticky work. This batch will be packed and sent to Bangkok. We were told to come back the next day to pick some up.

Potential chutney heaven. You will find Gaun’s recipe with photos later. She makes an absolutely killer (in all ways) chilli paste too.

Gaun’s chilli paste. Not for the fainthearted.

Three of the ladies are in the market for a farang husband (who wouldn’t be after meeting me) as is the massage lady across the road! A friendly chatty bunch. Boring manual labour never overcomes the natural Isaan ability to have a good time.

The next stage was to buy some fresh tamarind so the next day we drove the 10 minutes to Ban (village) Din Si On and arrived as the tamarind was being prepared for packing.

The tamarind had been laid outside to semi-dry and to allow for the packing.

More than I needed for my chutney!

Tamarind with a tamarind tree in the background!

Workers were compacting three of these rolls of tamarind into one. You can see the completed ones on the left.

We ordered 2 kilos and this is the owner of one of the three shops involved preparing some for us. 60 baht a kilo (A$3.00)

The compacted rolls were then packed into plastic bags three rolls wide and about eight high to give a total 10 kilos.

Gaun just organises people to position themselves for photos. This guy was put in place to demonstrate the 10 kilo bag. All of this crop is being sold and shipped to Bangkok. where it will end up overseas according to the boss. Evidently some will become tamarind soap – who would have thought?

Tamarind chutney day. Our journey of tamarind discovery from tree to jam jar and here is the final step. The raw tamarind. You need to peel off all those stalks. I am sure you can buy that already done in the markets.

The stalks. Removing them is slow and sticky process.

The end result. 1 kilo of tamarind. Add water and boil until soft.

Drain off water.

Refine by pressing through a sieve. Add 800 grams of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt and 250 ml coconut milk and reheat to dissolve the sugar.

The end chutney is in that white bowl. Delicious on cold meats or as a dip for fresh warm sticky rice for those Isaan farang. Easy to do (apart from the cleaning) and something a little different. I use this chutney on a smoked ham sandwich with fresh lettuce and mayonnaise. Yummy.

Ingredients:
1 kilo sour tamarind
800 grams sugar (less or more according to how sweet you want it)
1 teaspoon salt
250 ml coconut milk.

The end result was four 460 gram jars of chutney.

Thank you for reading and please leave a comment. It’s the only payment I ask for.

Tony

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4 Comments

  1. Stella

    Thanks for the recipe Tony. I will definitely give it a try.

    Glad to read your stories again 🙂

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      I hope it works for you. Reduce the sugar to start with and build up to taste. I like mine sweet but the last batch Gaun made was more sour, which was yummy too.

      Reply
  2. Adrian Martin

    Thanks for an interesting article Tony.

    When I was living and working in Makassar (South Sulawesi, Indonesia), I learned that the Makassarese used to sail to Northern Australia to harvest sea cucumber (trepang).

    They took tamarind pods with them, as they were away from home for months at a time. The discarded seeds took root, and the Tamarind trees are now an indication to historians of where the early fishermen were based.

    The Indonesian name for the Tamarind is “pohon asam manis” – sweet and sour tree.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      That’s an interesting additional background to the history of the tamarind. Thank you.

      Tony

      Reply

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