I’m back with a post I’ve held onto for a long time, how to make tamarind paste. I made this particular tamarind paste all the way back in April!
Why didn’t I put it on FYS?
Well let’s just say I’m not thrilled with the photos and I also didn’t get to make many dishes with it before we left Illinois, so this lovely paste is still in my friend’s freezer, unless she’s thrown it away 😉
I decided to post this anyway! I know without a doubt I would make it again, so that means I have to share it.
If you came via yesterday’s post and learned all about my favorite grocery store, Cermak, you’ll know I picked up these pods from their dried food section. I had never seen them before and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I spent some time on Wikipedia and read several ‘paste making’ tips before just getting into what would work for me.
I will give a word of caution—to make this—I think you’ll have to like doing the DIY route to begin with. Some parts are a little tedious and may take a while but the end result is delicious and if you’re still like me, you probably LOVE learning new things about new things.
What are tamarind pods?
“The tamarind is a long-lived, medium-growth, bushy tree, which attains a maximum crown height of 12 to 18 metres (40 to 60 feet). The crown has an irregular, vase-shaped outline of dense foliage. The tree grows well in full sun in clay, loam, sandy, and acidic soil types, with a high drought and aerosol salt (wind-borne salt as found in coastal areas) resistance.
Leaves are evergreen, bright green in color, elliptical ovular, arrangement is alternate, of the pinnately compound type, with pinnate venation and less than 5 cm (2 inches) in length. The branches droop from a single, central trunk as the tree matures and is often pruned in human agriculture to optimize tree density and ease of fruit harvest. At night, the leaflets close up.
The tamarind does flower, though inconspicuously, with red and yellow elongated flowers. Flowers are 2.5 cm wide (one inch), five-petaled, borne in small racemes, and yellow with orange or red streaks. Buds are pink as the four sepals are pink and are lost when the flower blooms.
The fruit is an indehiscentlegume, sometimes called a pod, 12 to 15 cm (3 to 6 inches) in length, with a hard, brown shell. The fruit has a fleshy, juicy, acidulous pulp. It is mature when the flesh is colored brown or reddish-brown. The tamarinds of Asia have longer pods containing six to 12 seeds, whereas African and West Indian varieties have short pods containing one to six seeds. The seeds are somewhat flattened, and glossy brown.
The tamarind is best described as sweet and sour in taste, and is high in acid, sugar, B vitamins and, oddly for a fruit, calcium.
As a tropical species, it is frost sensitive. The pinnate leaves with opposite leaflets give a billowing effect in the wind. Tamarind timber consists of hard, dark red heartwood and softer, yellowish sapwood.
Tamarind is harvested by pulling the pod from its stalk. A mature tree may be capable of producing up to 175 kg (350 lb) of fruit per year. Veneer grafting, shield (T or inverted T) budding, and air layering may be used to propagate desirable selections. Such trees will usually fruit within three to four years if provided optimum growing conditions.” [source]
Tamarind paste has a wonderful sweet-sour flavor that can be added to as many dishes as you have creativity for.
- jams, syrups, sweetened drinks, sorbet, and ice-cream
- Worcestershire sauce
- mole sauce
Just to name a few.
What you need:
- 1.410 lb of tamarind pods
- A large sauce pan
- 1-2 colander
- Paring knife
- Apple cider vinegar (approximately 1 cup)
- Maple syrup, honey or agave (between 1/3 and 1/2 cups)
I started with almost a pound and a half of tamarind pods. After the shells are removed it’s probably closer to a pound.
One of the tedious steps is removing the shells, it really seemed to take forever. If you press on them, they crackle and then you can start to peel them off, but the chunks are never as big as you want them to be. I found it easier to do this step over the garbage (a newspaper could work too).
Once you have the shells removed, you will be able to see four or five roots running down the sides. It would also be ideal if you can remove these with a paring knife. Some parts are super easy and other parts are really tough and sticky. I ended up leaving a lot on.
Now it starts to get fun. Add your peeled pods to a saucepan and just barely cover them with water. Bring to a rolling boil on high heat and boil for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit for 10 minutes—covered.
They should be softened now and look rather interesting. Cough cough.
Remove the seeds and any additional root string. I did this by placing a few pods in a bowl at a time and pressing on them with a spoon or pastry ‘cutter’ to squeeze out the seeds. There’s the fleshy tamarind on the outside and inside along the center of the pod are the seeds. Surrounding the seeds is a small but tougher skin but we’ll get to that in a bit. For now, just remove the seeds and set them aside.
Once you have removed all of the seeds/roots, place the paste back into the saucepan and add about a cup of apple cider vinegar and 1/3-1/2 cup of sweetener of choice. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes until it thickens into a paste.
Separating the paste from the tougher parts. Yes, there are still a few more things to remove. I did this a couple of ways. I traded off between using a colander and bamboo skimmer/strainer. Put the paste in either one and press with a large spoon to squeeze the tamarind paste through the holes.
Leaving you with this kind of tough/woody mess.
Now the fun part! I lined a mini muffin tin with saran wrap and was able to fit a couple of tablespoons of paste in each one—which is perfect for adding to a recipe.
Place in the freezer and allow to freeze for several hours or overnight. When frozen, remove from the muffin tin and saran wrap and store in a ziploc bag or another freezer-safe container.
Next time you whip up a little stir-fry or veggie sauté, throw in a pod of paste. It adds a great tangy flavor to whatever you are cooking
You might be thinking we are done, but I like to see if I can use up ALL the bits! I thought the seeds were absolutely gorgeous and just had to do something with them. Mostly because they are a very tough seed. I washed and then allowed them to dry and was surprised at how rock-like they are.
You already know that I love to use power tools. 🙂 I thought I’d turn the seeds into jewelry? I just really wanted to use the drill on an unreasonably small object. If you do this, place the seeds on scrap piece of wood and pick out an appropriate sized drill bit.
I would have loved to drilled these through the side versus the front but didn’t have a good vice-grip or way to hold them tight and safe. I was probably being risky enough holding each seed down with my finger and drilling – it drove my friend nuts. 😉
And all of a sudden you have awesome earrings!
The next time I make the paste, I think I will add a splash of tamari to the acv and sweetener – just to see.
Thank you for reading and I would love to hear your favorite way to use tamarind paste! Let us know below. xoxo
Thank you for the post on tamarind! I almost gave in and bought the little squeeze packs, then I found your post which made it easier and I have quite a bit to use now. While my partner and I are not vegan I have been slowly getting him to eat more meatless meals and Asian flavors really help my case as it always so flavorful. Thank you again!!!
Thank you for being the first comment on this post Kris! I’m glad it worked out for you 🙂 It’s fun learning a new thing!
Hi, I’m planning on doing this tonight to make some pad thai :).. I have both honey and maple syrup- is there one that’s better than the other or does it have much of a difference in taste? Thanks!
I think they would both be good! And probably only subtle differences in taste if you’re really looking for it. 🙂
Great post, Michelle! I came across it because I, too, thought those hard little seeds shouldn’t be wasted. I have also learned that tamarind seed
craftswomen boil and soak the seeds (in rain water, not tap water whose mineral content may whiten the seeds) to make them tender for stringing. They harden up again when dry. Then, of course, you don’t have the fun of playing with power tools! 😊
Hi Mary! If I get around to making this again I will definitely try the boiling method for the seeds. It sounds like a great way to get better control of the end design. 🙂
So after the peeling/boiling/soaking phase, I ran out of time and they sat overnight in the water until I could de-seed this a.m. By morning, the water had a lovely golden tint. Decided to save it for…?? Maybe a sweetened version of potato bread that usually calls for potato water? Thoughts?
Yay! So glad to find this blog. I have some pods, and had no idea what to do with them….will be working on this tonight!!
Excellent recipe! Easy to follow directions. I, too, bought a bag of tamarind pods not knowing what to do with them. Thanks for a super recipe! Now I’ll be looking for tamarind paste recipes.
Great recipe. Finally got those tamarinds out the fridge and got it done. They are now in the freezer. I liked how straight forward and easy your tutorial was. I’ll definitely do this again. Thanks for posting this.
Thanks so much. I have used the paste but this time bought the bean at Whole Foods. Being lazy I just peeled it and scraped off the gel like substance and fried it with my panang past while i made my peanut sauce. Seemed to work out ok. Thanks for the great info.
How long did you let the seeds dry?
The seeds are almost like rocks, so if I remember correctly, I just dried them off with a kitchen towel.
I enjoyed reading your post, Michelle. I’m actually in Vietnam at the moment teaching English. My students recently shared some tamarind pods with me. I’d never even seen them before. Over here, they simple peel off the shell and pop them into their mouths to suck the paste off of the seeds. They’re delicious that way. This morning, I tried scraping the paste off for my fruit smoothie, which left me with a bunch of sticky seeds (some of which found their way into my mouth – mmmm…) Wondering what I could do with the seeds, I came across your blog. I don’t have enough to make a respectable paste, but I think I’ll try the boiling part and then figure out how to roast the seeds to make a powder – they’re supposed to be quite good for you. At any rate, thank you for your inspiration!
(BTW, I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest. I would love to get back to Seattle some day. I hope you enjoy it out there as much as I did.
Fresh tamarind sounds amazing! I can’t imagine being able to eat it right out of the pod, that is very cool! I LOVE the PNW, there is so much beauty here. Thank you for the comment!! xo
I loved the idea for the seeds. However, the paste wasn’t very good. I didn’t care for the vinegar at all. I looked into other methods to use this unique fruit and found that it has a natural tart and sweet flavors. I decided to give it another go but this time trying a sweeter touch. I put the shelled and stringed fruit in a pot with just enough water to cover them. Brought them to a boil for 3 mins and let it sit for 10.I strained them let them sit a moment and went to work. I used gloves to separate the seeds and remaining strings by hand, sort of tedious but I liked it. I put all of it back in the pot with 3/4 cup water and a 1/3 cup of honey and half a lemon worth of juice. Brought it to a simmer for 20 mins til it was a paste and pushed it through a sieve, discarding the rest of the pods. It was your method that inspired my sweeter version. Thanks for sharing
That’s a great tip for those looking for a sweeter flavor – thank you for sharing!! <3
I am cooking a curry that called for tamarind paste and foolishly thought I’d scrape off some tamarind fruit and throw that in instead. After some googling I found your recipe and it was incredibly helpful. I read a few other recipes that seemed even more involved. I followed your procedure but instead of simmering the de-seeded tamarinds in the vinegar and sweetener I simmered mine in the water I initially boiled the tamarinds in. It came out absolutely delicious…marmalade-y sweet with a very strong sour bite. I can’t wait to cook with it tomorrow.
I’m so glad you had luck with it! I’ll have to try it with just water, thank you for sharing!
I recently bought some fresh tamarind at Whole Foods. The first 2 pods were fine, but then I noticed a white substance on the pulp. Is that safe to eat? Or is it a mold or fungus?
Love your post. So informative. Is the ACV just for flavor or does it help to preserve the tamarind?
Hi tamarind is widely used in South India. We use tamarind in many dishes. Tamarind seeds are roasted,soaked and dehulled and made into powder. Tamarind seed powder if taken in small amounts with milk is good for bones. With powder we make sweet dishes.
Hey, I’ve been collecting tamarind seeds and want to drill them, too. Does it look like the flesh inside will ever go bad once you break the hard shell?
Hi Ken, I no longer have the seeds, but I do remember the inside was just as tough as the outside and I don’t think you’d have a “rotting” problem. Cheers!
Did you know the seeds are edible? Ppl roast, peel and soak them before eating