The tamarind tree produces edible, pod-like fruit which are used extensively in cuisines around the world. Other uses include traditional medicines and metal polishes. The wood can be used in carpentry. Because of the tamarind’s many uses, cultivation has spread around the world in tropical and subtropical zones.
Tamarindus indica is indigenous to tropical Africa, particularly in Sudan, where it continues to grow wild. 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. The fruit is an indehiscent legume, 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, where as African and West Indian varieties have short pods containing one to six seeds.
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.