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Posted on Apr 22, 2008 in Bento, For Kids, Phyllo or Pancake or Other, Tutorial or How-to | 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.

How to peel a tamarind pod #1/6

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

How to peel a tamarind pod #4/6

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

How to peel a tamarind pod #3/6

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.

How to peel a tamarind pod #2/6

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

How to peel a tamarind pod #5/6

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.

How to peel a tamarind pod #6/6

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  1. I’ve got some of those cute carrot containers and I love them. But how do you get maple syrup in them? Or anything for that matter?

  2. Mmm…tamarind sounds tasty! The ones in the red box, at the Asian markets…are they just ready to go? I don’t need to cook them? I think I’ll go pick some up as a treat this afternoon!

  3. Ooh I love tamarind! I grew up in South America, and there it’s mostly used for juice, not eating and sold as a paste, in cilinders. Now, for cooking … it hadnt ocurred to me. Will have to try that.

  4. Oh my goodness, your website is adorable!

    …or should I say, “Kawaii!” (Dunno how to spell it lol)

  5. When my stepfather would come back from visits to his mom in Mexico, he would bring whole blocks of smooshed tamarind pulp…seeds and all. I’d love breaking off a small, sticky glob and chewing my way around all of the seeds until it was all gone. Maybe now I’ll give whole tamarind a try since they’re a lot easier to find and you’ve shown me how to open them. :-)

  6. Huh, interesting, I didn’t even know what tamarind really was (sure I’ve had it in cooking stuff- never bought it, never ate it whole). The look is quite a bit off-putting though ;) have to open my mind to trying it! Thanks for the lesson! Hehe. Sorry to hear about the carrot container though! The top on mine broke after I screwed it too tightly.

  7. Holys mokes it does look like poop but tamarind’s tastes soo yummy

  8. @2 from Aunt LoLo: I usually see these in pretty big boxes at Asian markets. No cooking required! My friend Vincent was disappointed that they only had the sweet variety, not the sour ones too.

  9. @3 from Amber: I think we approached tamarind in opposite order as I started cooking with it before experiencing it in drinks and candy. You can use it in Thai foods in place of vinegar or lime juice as the sour element. It’s an interesting variation.

  10. @4 from vampyra1: Hey, what a great idea for a simple homemade candy! I like it!

  11. @5 from ChocolateCoveredVegan: Thanks for the kind comment! Very sweet of you (and kawaii is the right spelling, BTW).

  12. @6 from Sandy: Where are you that whole tamarind is easier to find than the blocks? I’ve usually seen the blocks or concentrate, and just recently noticed the whole pods all around.

  13. @7 from Yvo: Yes, it really does look awful, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what thrilled Bug when we all ate it together — the gross-out aspect.

  14. @8 from Linda: Agreed on both tamarind’s taste and unfortunate appearance!

  15. Unchi fruit! LOL Your son is a trip! :)

    I’ve never tried this, but now that I know what those brown pod things are, I may buy some next time I head to the Asian market! :) So they’re sour? I love sour stuff.

  16. Oh I love tamarind. Here (Caribbean) we make tamarind balls. You can take the seeds out if you want, but I leave them in. The seeds make tamarind fun to eat, I think. You just roll them up into balls and coat it with sugar. It’s a tasty treat I get every year for carnival. I eat tamarinds right off the trees here as I walk past them… mmm!

  17. I’ve used tamarind paste in recipes, but never the whole fruit. I found some at Whole Foods last week and I almost bought them, but then shied away. I’ll have to go ahead and buy some so we can try them out.

    As for them looking like poop…well your son does have a point. Was his lunch the hit of all the kids at lunch?

    Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

  18. Every inclination I had of trying them out, I hadn’t even registered them as a fruit, only as something that I use in cooking all the time, is now gone due to the warped child of yours ;). Yet I’ve had worse in terms of food.

  19. I’m Hispanic and I grew up eating those and of course tamarind type candy so I brought some to work and few of my co-workers loved them but others cringed at the sight of them because they DO look like poo! But they’re good!

  20. @17 from Sile: There are two kinds: sweet and sour. The one shown above is sweet (it said so on the package) and was fine to eat out of hand as is. My friend was really disappointed that the store didn’t carry the sour ones…

  21. @18 from Mimi: Those tamarind balls sound like the Filipino tamarind/sugar candies that vampyra1 described in comments above. Sounds delicious! I’ll have to try that.

  22. @19 from Fourleafclover: Thanks! Whole tamarind pods were a new one on me as well.

  23. @20 from Sheltie Girl: You know, Bug didn’t wind up eating the tamarind at school. Maybe he had second thoughts in front of everyone? It really tickled him at home that it looked like poop, though. Boys! :-)

  24. @21 from Jessika: Yes, I hadn’t realized how fecal-looking tamarind is as I’d only really experienced its other forms, not whole from the pod. Sorry about ruining the tamarind experience for you! ;-)

  25. @22 from Adan: I agree, they are good! What’s your favorite way to eat tamarind?

  26. @23 from Valerie: I especially like HP sauce on bacon butties — sandwiches with English bacon rashers. What do you like HP sauce with?

  27. @28, Biggie, oh I’ll survive. Might even try it just to make a point ;).

  28. @ 25 from Biggie: Hey, I guess all over the world people love anything sweet and sour! cutting them up into smaller pieces sounds better for me though. sometimes I just need a little fix! thanks for the idea vampyra1!

  29. I’ve actually enjoyed drinking tamarind juice, especially when it’s hot outside and when I visit relatives in Mexico, there’s this shaved ice parlor that serves shaved ice with bits of tamarind and dried chili powder with lemon. So very yummy!

  30. @33 from vampyra1: I’ve had something similar in Mexican pinata candy — I like the hot/sour/sweet tamarind combo, but I can understand how it would be an acquired taste.

  31. @34 from Adan: Hey, tamarind chili shaved ice is something I haven’t tried before! I’ve had those paleta popsicles in that flavor, but never a shaved ice version. Interesting idea with lemon!

  32. What a terrible mother putting poop in a lunch box!! haha. Hopefully the kids at school don’t put him off and he keeps trying new things. I am very curious about these fruits myself now, though it looks like a gooey fudge chocolate fruit. lol. So you eat the sweet ones and cook with the sour ones as a matter of course?

  33. Woww! I love tamarind sauce, soda, and candy. I’ve seen the pods and been intrigued, but I did not know a person can eat the fruit raw like that! Thanks so much for sharing the preparation process.

  34. You know, I just love all the emails you put out, and I had a rough day today, and after reading this, I was cracking up. Thank you! Poop fruit……lol

  35. This would be excellent for those desserts that are supposed to look like a used kitty litter box. If you like that gross-out factor. I think Grape-Nuts cereal is most common as the “litter.” These things on a pan of Grape-Nuts would be kind of scary. But I guess fun for kids at the right age.

  36. Haha, it’s a very asian ingredient in a way. Living on the Thai border, they do sell pre-shelled version which are rolled in slightly roasted chilli flakes and a little sugar. It’s quite a fantastic combo, sour, sweet and spicy.

    However, when buying them raw, be careful about storing them. They are prone to growing huge worms. Really gross.

  37. I love your blog btw. Thought I’d share with you a favourite tamarind recipe of mine, though it may be somewhat an acquired taste, you seem to be very adventurous in your cooking. :D

    It’s called Telur Belanda, literally translated to mean Dutch Eggs (I have no clue why). Requires: Salted fish (Asian grocer – many ppl don’t like the smell though), tamarind paste / squeeze raw tamarind pulp in hot water to get same effect), garlic, chilli, onions, brown sugar, soy sauce, oil, eggs.

    Slice up a few cloves of garlic, one or two big onions, chilli (as preferred). Break some salted fish into small pieces, approximately a piled tablespoon. Heat up oil in a frying pan, fry eggs (I usually do 4-6) sunny-side up. Set on plate. Heat up oil, add in salted fish, fry till slightly crispy, set aside. With the same oil, fry the onion, garlic, and chilli until golden and fragrant, add in water, tamarind paste, sugar, and shake in some soy sauce (keep in mind the salted fish when added back in later will make it saltier as well). Simmer until it reduces to a thicker sauce (keep adding in water and sauces to taste, you want enough sauce to cover the eggs). Add the salted fish pieces back in, cook for another 2 minutes or so. Pour over eggs.

  38. BTW, you want to eat that with rice. :D

  39. @43 Lin Lynn. I’ll try your recipe. As I said in a previous comment, i am used to tamarind as an ingredient in almost anything asian in terms of sauces etc., and I use tamarind paste alot but had never registered that it could be eaten whole, as a fruit. I’ve thought about it and have decided to try it cut up in smaller pieces to disguise where your fantasy can take you in terms of how tamarind looks :)

  40. @38 from Metanoia: You can eat the sour ones as is too, either fresh off the tree or dried. Evidently on Reunion people also roll the fresh ones in either salt and chili, or sugar/chili. You can cook with either.

  41. @39 from Rachelle: My pleasure, Rachelle! It was a trip eating them whole.

  42. @40 from Jamie: Hey, glad to oblige! Sorry to hear about your day, hope things got better today…

  43. @41 from Sunflower: Grape Nuts and tamarind? Sounds disgusting! Maybe for Halloween… :-)

  44. @42/43/44 from Lin-lynn: Thanks for the tip about raw tamarind — worms don’t sound delicious… Can you tell me more about the salted fish in your recipe? Are they the dried, smoked fish I’ve seen sold on sticks in Thai markets? (Speaking of worms, though, the last dried smoked fish I got from my local Thai market had little worms in them — not lovely).

  45. I knew Tamarind looked like that but it never really registered what it looked like. uh…that didn’t make much sense.

    I love Tamarind soda and juice so maybe I should give this a try.

  46. @51 from Kaits: Ha ha! No, I get it! I’d seen it in blocks and whole in the pod itself, but not shelled before. Gross but yummy!

  47. I have been looking for tamarind for a long time. I guess I just didn’t know what I was looking for though. I am mostly trying to find paste for my pad thai, but when I get to the market, everything is so overwhelming and I can’t seem to find it.

  48. @53 from Amber in Portland: I wonder if the store’s staff could help you find the tamarind? There are so many forms it could be in that I’d be surprised if they don’t have ANY.

  49. @56 from vampyra1: Ooh score! Tamarindo candy! What brand?

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

  51. @59 from seba: Bwah ha hah, I’d never heard that! Let us know if you’re able to confirm that rumor…

  52. 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

  53. 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?

  54. 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?

  55. 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!

  56. 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?

  57. 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

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

  59. 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!

  60. 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.