Tamarind is a sticky brown pulp found inside a fuzzy brown bean pod. The pods are found on a tropical evergreen tree (tamarindus indica) originally from East Africa and grown now throughout Sudan, Madagascar, India, and Mexico. It’s a huge tree, growing easily over 50 feet tall. Its bright green leaves are feathery, and the yellow flowers look like orchids.
Sweetened for candy or salted and dried into snacks, the tart pulp is as popular worldwide as lemons are in the West. It plays a prominent role in Philippine adobo, Indian sambar, and pad thai from Thailand. In Mexico, it’s used to make candy and sweet beverages. (Tamarind is the nickname given to the traffic cops of Mexico city— because of their uniform color, not their fuzzy, lumpy shape.) Tamarind is a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, English brown sauce, and western barbecue sauce.
Purchase tamarind pods whole at Asian or Mexican markets, or find the pulp in brick form, with or without seeds. Steep the pulp in liquid and strain out the hard seeds before using.