If you’re like many people in the western world, you may have never heard of tamarind. However, this Asian tropical tree and its fruit produce a valuable food crop with significant health benefits. People around the globe could enhance their well-being by adding more of it to their diets.
What are the healing properties of this exotic superfood? How can you incorporate more of it into your meal plan, and is it possible to get too much of the stuff? Read on to discover more.
What is Tamarind?
Tamarind itself is a type of tree that’s indigenous to the tropical regions of India and Pakistan (1). It produces a pod-like fruit that is also a type of legume. These resemble long, woody green beans, and they contain a few seeds and a tart pulp. Most people consume the pulp, although the seeds are edible if prepared. The tender young leaves also play a role in many Indian dishes.
Even though tamarind is native to the East, today, Mexico is a significant producer of the fruit. They make a drink called agua de tamarindo, which is quite popular — and tasty. The pulp is also one of the secret ingredients in Worcestershire sauce.
The pulp of this pod packs a flavor punch. Many people mix it with sugar and dilute it to cut the tart taste. Although fruity, it will nevertheless pucker your mouth if consumed in the raw.
10 Health Benefits of Tamarind
Now that you know what tamarind is, what medicinal uses does this healing plant contain? Here are ten reasons to start including this superfood in your diet today:
1. It Helps Protect Neurological Health
Tamarind is high in magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral critical to neurological health. People with depression often have lower serum levels of this mineral in their blood. Insufficient levels of this substance may contribute to the cognitive decline seen in dementia.
Why not mix up a batch of apple-walnut salad with tamarind chutney as a side or a meal in itself? You’ll potentially reduce your dementia risk — plus, the sweetness of the pulp means you won’t have to add much sugar.
2. It Removes Fluoride Deposits from Bones
Calcium fluoride is a natural mineral found in the soil and water. The fluoride added to tap water, toothpaste, and other products is an industrial chemical that actually breaks down our bones instead of helping them. This synthetic fluoride (like sodium fluoride, fluorosilicic acid, or sodium fluorosilicate) can produce adverse health effects, including bone and tooth fluorosis and thyroid problems, to name a few . It can prove toxic in sufficient amounts.
One study asked participants to consume a third of an ounce of tamarind for 18 days. They noted a significant enhancement in the urinary excretion of fluoride in those studied. A second study had participants consume tamarind for three weeks, and researchers observed similar results. These findings hold promise for people suffering from fluorosis due to overexposure to the mineral in their drinking water.
For example, parts of India experience high levels of the substance in their water. Stateside, some Americans express concerns about excess fluoride added to public drinking water — consuming more tamarind could counteract these effects.
3. It’s Beneficial for Cardiovascular Health
Researchers studied the effect of tamarind consumption on the human lipid profile, diastolic and systolic blood pressure and body weight (5). They discovered that the fruit led to a significant reduction in cholesterol levels. Additionally, an aqueous seed extract decreased blood pressure and heart rate in diabetic and hypertensive rats.
Given that heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women in the western world, society would benefit from including this superfood in more dishes. Research shows that patients with well-controlled blood pressure cost an average of $15,000 to treat, while costs soar to $90,000 in those with uncontrolled hypertension.
If you multiply these potential savings by the number of people living with cardiovascular conditions, the U.S. economy stands to save billions from helping people manage their systolic and diastolic pressure more effectively.
4. Alleviates Inflammation
Tamarind is chock-full of B-vitamins, particularly vitamins B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), and B-3 (niacin) (7). It also contains a considerable amount of vitamin B-6 and folate. B-vitamins give you energy, so consuming more of the fruit can power you through a long day at the office. Additionally, these nutrients reduce inflammation in your veins and arteries, keeping them pliable, preventing hardening, and the associated risk of heart attack and stroke.
Tamarind works particularly well for arthritis. One study showed that tamarind seed extract inhibited the elevated activity of bone-deteriorating enzymes like tartrate-resistant acid phosphatases. It also mitigated levels of inflammatory mediators, like interleukin. Tamarind can potentially slow down the rate of deterioration often seen in various arthritic conditions.
5. It Improves Digestion
A single serving of tamarind provides over 6 grams of dietary fiber. Your body can’t digest fiber, but it draws water to your large intestine. This moisture makes it more comfortable for you to move your bowels, but it also creates a sense of fullness. Many studies show that fiber helps to alleviate constipation.
If you’re trying to watch your weight, consuming more fiber can prevent the urge to snack. That’s because it creates bulk in your intestines, which sends your nervous system the signal that you’re already full.
6. High in Magnesium
Magnesium is a critical mineral for overall health, particularly when it comes to your nervous system. One recent study indicated that supplementation with magnesium works more effectively than antidepressants in treating mild-to-moderate depression . Over 80% of the U.S. population has a deficiency in this mineral, and eating more tamarind can help address this need.
7. It’s High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants combat free radicals in your body. Free radicals consist of molecules with unpaired electrons. When these unpaired electrons seek new mates, they break down your body’s cells over time (10). Antioxidants combat these free radicals, potentially stopping cellular damage in its tracks. This effect can decrease the chances of developing many other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Powerful Antimicrobial and Antiviral
Tamarind finds a host of uses in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of various diseases. Practitioners in Africa use the plant as an antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antiviral agent (11). Across Africa and Southeast Asia, people use tamarind to remedy anything from conjunctivitis — or pinkeye — to bacterial skin infections.
Have you ever had angular cheilitis? These painful cuts at the corners of your mouth stem from a form of yeast infection. Tamarind shows promise in Ayurvedic medicine as an antifungal agent, even though science needs to confirm the efficacy. In the meantime, smearing a bit of pulp on the cuts may heal them more quickly.
9. It Helps Manage Diabetes
In Eastern medicine, practitioners often prescribe herbal remedies for various ailments, including diabetes. Countless Americans now live with the disease or its precursor, and it puts sufferers at a higher risk of heart and kidney disease. It can even make them more susceptible to adverse effects from viral infections, such as COVID-19.
Extracts from tamarind seeds have shown antidiabetogenic properties. A male diabetic rat injected with the extract evidenced a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar after seven days. If you are one of the many with this condition, try adding more tamarind to your diet.
10. It May Aid in Weight Loss
Tamarind contains a compound known as hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which inhibits an enzyme that prompts your body to store fat (13). Since it also has tons of filling fiber, adding more tamarind to your diet may help you shed the excess pounds. Plus, it doesn’t create a significant effect on your blood sugar, so consuming foods containing the pulp won’t lead to a crash later.
How Do You Eat Tamarind?
Tamarind finds an ideal home in many chutneys since the thick paste-like consistency adds the necessary volume to multiple dishes. You can buy raw tamarind pods at select health food stores, but many people purchase the pulp as a paste. You can use this paste directly from the can the way you would a tomato version, although you may need to add sugar to cut the tartness.
You can make dishes such as this spicy peanut chutney — it makes the perfect dipping sauce for vegetarian or vegan wraps. If you like, you can use the paste to create healthy homemade candy by using organic stevia instead of sugar. Stevia is a plant-based sweetener significantly more potent than cane sugar, but it doesn’t have the same tooth-decaying effects.
How to Use Tamarind
You can use different parts of the tamarind plant for various purposes. Check out these suggested uses for this healing tree:
- The leaves: Practitioners of folk medicine use tamarind leaves for sprains and swelling (14). To apply, take a cotton cloth and place warm, steamed tamarind leaves in it. Wrap the fabric around the swollen area.
- The pulp and seeds: Tamarind contains compounds called xyloglucans, and the seeds contain hyaluronic acid, both of which have potent anti-aging properties. Eating the pulp is how you’ll receive the most benefits of the fruit. You can also make a beautifying skin mask with the pulp and exfoliating scrub with the ground seeds. Your skin will look youthful and radiant.
Side Effects of Too Much Tamarind
When used as food, most people won’t experience side effects from tamarind. However, it is possible to get too much of nearly any good thing. Because it has a mild laxative effect, consuming too much can result in spending unwanted time in the bathroom (15).
Also, insufficient evidence exists to support the use of tamarind in pregnant or breastfeeding women. Since the substance can also lower your blood sugar, you should consult with your physician if you have concerns about hypoglycemia before use.
The Bottom Line
Tamarind is a useful and tasty addition to many diets. It can potentially offer a host of health benefits. Consider adding this superfood to your meal plan today.