Tamarind - history

Tamarind or tamar-i-hind, the 'date of India' as the Arabs described it, is one of the most widespread trees of the Indian subcontinent. It may have originated in Africa, but its history in South Asia is ancient and it is widespread in the region.

Early use

Tamarind has many uses, but it is best known as a souring agent in food flavouring. The refreshing sour taste of the fruit is particularly popular in South India and there are numerous references to it in ancient Tamil literature. Tamarind also features in some Ayurvedic literature, including Vagbhata's Astangahrdaya, dating to 600 AD.

A painting of a tamarind tree with a woman and child in the foreground.
Tamarind tree near Bombay. c.1850.

Gums are used as the principal binding medium for watercolour paints used in miniature painting and to a certain extent in manuscript illustration. A paste made from tamarind seeds is used in the traditional art of patachitra or painted cloth hangings in the state of Orissa, where two pieces of cloth are pasted together to form a surface for paintings.

Spread of the crop

It is not known when tamarind was introduced from Africa to Asia. A number of important crop plants, such as sorghum and finger millet, reached South Asia from Africa by 2000 BC. Tamarind might have arrived then, or might be a transfer by later traders.

Sometime during the sixteenth century, tamarind was introduced into the Americas, and today it is widely grown in Mexico.




many uses