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Tamarindus indica (tamarind)

From the sausage-shaped fruits of the tamarind tree comes the sticky acidic pulp that has been used as a food ingredient for thousands of years.

Orange flowers of Tamarindus indica

Inflorescence of Tamarindus indica

Species information

Common name: 

tamarind, Tamr hindi (Arabic - translated as Indian date), dakkar

Conservation status: 

This widely distributed species is not currently a conservation concern.

Habitat: 

Tropical seasonally dry forest, woodland and wooded grassland, often found along rivers.

Key Uses: 

Food, timber.

Known hazards: 

Flour from the ground seeds can cause asthma and contact dermatitis.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Rosanae
Order: 
Fabales
Family: 
Leguminosae/ Fabaceae - Caesalpinioideae
Genus: Tamarindus

About this species

The fruits of the tamarind were traded widely in ancient times. Records from the eastern Mediterranean show Tamarindus indica was already in cultivation there in the fourth century B.C. On encountering the fruit in western India, Arab sea-traders thought the sticky black pulp and seeds of the fruit resembled their native date palm, so they combined their common name for date palm ‘Tamr’, along with the Arabic name for India (‘hindi’), to arrive at the common name tamrhindi on which the scientific name Tamarindus is based.

Genus: 
Tamarindus

Discover more

Geography and distribution

The origin of the tamarind is uncertain as it has been widely cultivated since ancient times. It is apparently native to tropical Africa and Madagascar but is found throughout the tropics. In some areas where it was originally cultivated, it has now run wild (it is naturalised).

Tamarindus indica, copy of an illustration commissioned by William Roxburgh, watercolour on paper, by unknown Indian Artist, 19th century.

Description

Tamarindus indica is a tree reaching 30 m in height with a spreading crown of up to 12 m in diameter. The leaves measure up to 15 cm long and are composed of numerous small leaflets, which close at night, arranged in pairs along a central axis. The flowers are about 2.5 cm across and have three petals that are golden with a pattern of red veins as well as two tiny thread-like petals that are barely visible. The flowers are borne on inflorescences up to about 20 cm long. The brown, short-haired, sausage-like fruits contain an acidic pulp which is a much-prized ingredient of confectioneries, curries and pickles.

Threats and conservation

This widely distributed species is not currently a conservation concern.

Uses

From the sausage-shaped fruits of the tamarind tree comes the sticky acidic pulp that has been used as a food ingredient for thousands of years. The pulp was traded widely in ancient times leading to the extensive use and cultivation of the tamarind, which in turn has resulted in the widespread tropical distribution of this species.

The edible fruits, and especially the pulp, can be eaten raw or used as an ingredient in curries, pickles, confectionery and in fermented drinks. The seeds can be eaten raw or cooked. Tamarind wood is used as timber, firewood and for charcoal. Other uses of the species include medicines, dyes and for planting as an ornamental.

Cultivation

Fruits of Tamarindus indica

Fruits of Tamarindus indica

Tamarindus indica is propagated at Kew using semi-ripe apical or internodal cuttings. Initially these are placed in a misting unit where there is bottom heat and frequent fogging. When rooting has occurred successfully, the plants are potted up into a loam-based or organic compost. They are then placed in a zone where the temperature is maintained at 18 to 28 ˚C. The watering regime keeps the substrate constantly moist but not soggy. This species is subject to mealy bug, which is removed physically whenever possible. It is hoped that tamarind could be used as a host for the parasite sandalwood in future growth experiments in the Tropical Nursery.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Foliage and Fruit of the Tamarind and Flowers and Fruit of the Papaw in Java, painting by Marianne North

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Six
Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive being dried without significantly reducing their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)
Germination testing: Successful
Composition values: Oil content 4.3 - 7.4%

Tamarind at Kew

A tamarind from Ethiopia can be seen in the Palm House.

There are also specimens of Tamarindus indica in the Tropical Nursery, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of the Gardens.

References and credits

Burkill, H.M. (1995). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa 3. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

DADOBAT. Domestication and development of baobab and tamarind.

DuPuy, D.J., Labat, J. -N., Rabevohitra, R, Villiers, J. -F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J. (2002). The Leguminosae of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Lewis, G., Schrire, B. Mackinder, B. & Lock, J. M. (eds) (2005). Legumes of the World. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kew Science Editor: Barbara Mackinder
Kew Contributors: Millennium Seed Bank

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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