Tamarind: A Multipurpose Condiment

Its botanical name is Tamarindus indica, but what does it matter - for us it is the good old imli

TamarindMere thought of this sour, brownish pod with a dash of salt and chilli powder would send many of us drooling. And that’s not all – think of chaat without imli-ki-chutney or ask any South Indian to live without tangy tamarind rice. Tamarind is an essential condiment in the Indian kitchen. It is widely used as a souring agent in making curries, sambar, dal, vegetables, salads and chutneys. Moreover, similar to most seasonings found in our kitchens, this too has many a medicinal value.

The tree, a native of Africa, was brought to India centuries ago, but now has become a ubiquitous part of the Indian countryside, giving shade to people and is like a play-and-eat area with children. It is a long-living evergreen, about 60-80 ft tall, with small leaves and pods that look like rounded broad beans. The pods are green in infancy, but as they ripen, take a dark chocolate-brown colour. It is at this stage that they are plucked, processed and used.

“Ayurveda divides tastes into six forms such as sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and acrid”, says Vaidya HG Joshi, previously attached with Sion Ayurvedic College. Tamarind, according to him, is classified as a food with sour or amla rasa, rich in vitamin C and can be grouped with other citrus fruits. The tree is used as a whole in India, the pods, their skin and seeds, flowers, leaves and even the bark of the tree, with each part being remedial on its own. However, Vaidya Joshi feels that if you want to follow Ayurveda, it should be based on an individual’s body type or the prakruti [see box]. People with vata prakruti can use it liberally, but those with kapha or pitta tendency should keep the use at the minimum.

Uses of tamarind


  • Tamarind mainly acts as an appetite stimulant, a digestive and a system cleanser [it is a mild laxative]
  • It stimulates salivation thus aiding digestion
  • It brings dysentery under control by preventing further proliferation of the disease-causing bacteria
  • Chutney, or simply tamarind mixed with little salt, acts as an appetiser in cases of fever
  • It is also used in treating gingivitis since it is rich in vitamin C
  • Dry tamarind is cardiac protective.


  • Can be used in excessive thirst, malaise [uneasiness] and dizziness
  • Acts as an antidote in opium users
  • Brings down vomiting due to hyperacidity.


  • Dry roasted, powdered skin acts as a mild diuretic
  • In cases where stools are lined with blood, one could dry roast and grind the skin of the pod and take the powder with some curd.


  • Crushed seeds are used in case of diabetes for their bitter taste
  • Powdered seeds mixed with turmeric is used to keep eruptive fevers such as measles or chicken pox under control
  • These are excellent antidote on scorpion bites. A paste of this when applied to the affected part helps draw out the poison.


  • Juice of flowers is a good home remedy for piles.


  • A bunch of tamarind leaves tied up in a big castor leaf, warmed and applied on boils, carbuncles help easing pain.
  • A paste of tamarind and amla leaves is good for sprains, swelling and fracture.


  • In case of spasmodic abdominal pain due to flatulence, churna [powder] of the bark could be used.
  • Powdered bark given with goat’s milk may help in anaemia.

Although tamarind may be used to treat many maladies, people with arthritis, cough, asthma, abscess, skin diseases such leucoderma, eczema and those with kidney disorders must avoid its intake as much as possible since the sourness could cause flare-up. Another important point is that the use of herbal remedies should be done with discretion and only after consultation with the doctor.

Tamarind chutney


  • 1 cup cleaned tamarind
  • 1/2 cup dates deseeded
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 crushed cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup jaggery


  1. Wash the tamarind clean.
  2. Place the tamarind, jaggery, sugar, dates and water in a deep boiling pan.
  3. Soak for a few minutes. Put to boil for about 7-8 minutes.
  4. Cool to room temperature. Blend in a mixer till smooth.
  5. Strain and transfer to the pan again. Boil till thick enough to coat the back of a spoon thinly.
  6. Add the seasoning. Cool again. Store in clean airtight bottles and refrigerate.

Serves: 2 1/2 to 3 cups.

Making time: 20 minutes [excluding cooling time]

Shelf life: 1 month [refrigerated]

The three prakrutis [individual body types]

According to Ayurveda, the Vata, Pitta and Kapha prakrutis are fundamental principles of nature that govern all activities of mind and body. While all three are active in the constitution, one usually dominates, making an individual tend towards that body type.

Vata prakruti

Individuals with more vata in their body tend to be thin, with dry hair and skin, are light sleepers, talkative, vibrant and enthusiastic.

Pitta prakruti

People in this group tend to be medium-framed, sharp in their speech and action, moderate sleepers, confident about themselves.

Kapha prakruti

People here are large-framed, heavy sleepers, affectionate, emotionally steady and with natural resistance to sickness.

Padma Sanzgiri
Dr Padma Sanzgiri, PhD in Clinical Biochemistry, is an accomplished health writer with articles featured in a number of publications including Reader's Digest, Femina and the Times of India.


  1. Tamarind is from Africa- is a misconception.

    We vaishnavites of Tamil nadu worship a tamarind tree
    in Southern Tamilnadu as an avatar of the lord, being thousands of years old.

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