Sweet and tangy, tamarind is one of the widely used spice condiments found in every Indian Kitchen, especially the South of India from times unknown. There won’t be an Indian who is not aware of a tamarind. The tamarind fruit is a hard brown shell that contains seeds and a pulp that becomes extremely sour when dried. The pulp of the fruit is the main portion of tamarind used in food production. When still slightly unripe, it has a very sharp, sour taste with a high level of acidity. Unripe tamarind is used in many candies and dishes throughout Asia and Latin America. The Indians prefer to use ripe tamarind though unripe tamarind and its leaves are also occasionally used in their Kitchen.
Tamarind fruit contains certain health benefits with essential volatile chemical compounds, minerals, vitamins and dietary fiber.
Health benefits of Tamarind:
1. Prevents Constipation: Its sticky pulp is a rich source of non-starch polysaccharides or dietary fiber such as gums, hemicelluloses, mucilage, pectin and tannins. 100 gms of fruit pulp provides 5.1 or over 13% of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber in the food increases its bulk and augments bowel movements thereby help prevent constipation.
2. Protects the Colon: The fiber also binds to toxins in the food thereby help protect the colon mucus membrane from cancer causing chemicals.
3. Reduces Bad Cholesterol or LDL: In addition, dietary fibers in the pulp bind to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) and decrease their re-absorption in the colon; thereby help in expulsion of the bad cholesterol or LDL (Low density lipoprotein) levels from the body.
4. Fights free Radicals: While lemon composes of citric acid, tamarind is rich in tartaric acid. Tartaric acid gives sour taste to food besides it inherent activity as a powerful antioxidant. It thus, helps the human body to protect from harmful free radicals.
5. Controls heart rate and blood pressure: This prized fruit is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help control the heart rate and blood pressure. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome oxidases enzymes.
6. Boost Metabolism: In addition, it is also rich in many vital vitamins, including thiamin (36% of daily levels required), vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. Much of these vitamins play the role of antioxidant as well as co-factor functions for enzyme metabolism within the body.
Why Dr. Mantena Satyanarayana Raju says no to Tamarind?
Like many of you, this question haunted me as well. It is understandable if someone tells you not to eat salt, sugar, ghee, oil, spices etc. as they have been proved harmful to the body by many scientists, doctors and researchers. Even if they contain any benefit, they are more harmful than beneficial. Whatever the information I had about tamarind was really positive. I was really surprised to see tamarind in the list of 7 harmful tastes by Dr. Raju. I therefore tried to find out the facts from both Dr. Raju’s point of view and others point of view.
Thankfully we have ‘Google’ to get all sorts of information to clarify the doubts. You type tamarind and hundreds of pages tumble upon describing the benefits of tamarind. I have listed out some of the benefits of tamarind gathered from various sources on internet. I also went through some of the books and articles of Dr. Raju to know his point of view. After reading them, I did not find his claims really valid and convincing. A few days later, I came across one of his video on you tube where he explained the side-effects or harms associated with tamarind. On keenly watching his talk, I understood some of these amazing facts which is quite contradictory to what is been written above.
Is tamarind really beneficial to health?
If you are someone who doesn’t belong to South Indian states especially Andhra Pradesh you simply write off his claims. You never agree that tamarind is harmful to health. You might call him crazy for making such non-sense statements. After a deep study I came to a conclusion that even Dr. Raju knows the benefits of tamarind as mentioned above and yet he claims it as a harmful taste. And he is truly so. Let me clarify this. He did a detailed study and research about South Indian cuisine. His whole claim revolves around South Indian food culture. If you understand south Indian food culture, he sounds valid and possibly right. Let us try to understand in detail why tamarind is harmful taste according to Dr. Raju:
1. First you must understand whether tamarind is a food or medicine. It is a gift of nature with certain medicinal values. There are two theories prevalent in India. According to Ayurveda, herbal plants and spices should always be there in your kitchen for health benefits and Naturopathy says you must keep the herbs and spices away from your kitchen for the very same reason. Well they sound contrary but if you understand the message it is the same. Ayurveda says to keep them in kitchen readily available so that you can use them at the time of need. But what are we doing? We are using them every day. Since you are not doing what it meant to be, Naturopathy says keep them away from kitchen so that you don’t consume every day. You can consume the food on regular basis but medicines should be consumed only when there is some problem to the body.
Tamarind is a natural laxative. It helps in free bowel movement. Tamarind when dried becomes a medicine. For instance tea leaves don’t enervate you when they are fresh. Once they are dried, enervating ingredient tean is produced that enervates your nerves on drinking tea. The same is the case with tobacco leaves. In early days, people used to consume raw tamarind juice early in the morning in empty stomach as an anti-dote for constipation. When you use tamarind every day the body becomes conducive and it will not serve the purpose effectively.
2. But when the same tamarind is consumed with rice and other food, it cannot function effectively in moving the bowels. The action of the food in digestion works against the very functioning of the tamarind. Though it irritates the bowel but food that is in digestion does not let free bowel movements to happen. That leads to acidity and other gas trouble. If you visit a doctor complaining gas trouble why the doctors ask you to stop consuming tamarind?
3. One of the main reasons for Dr. Raju being so harsh on tamarind is the south Indian cuisine. In North and other parts of India and may be other parts of the World, people use tamarind very occasionally but tamarind in southern part of India especially Andhra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu is used excessively in the kitchen. You visit any south Indian restaurant and order any south Indian food you find tamarind in it. The hotels in south India offer unlimited meals for just 100 rupees with unlimited sambar and rasam. What are they going to lose? Only the water boiled with handful of pulses, salt, tamarind juice and spices. The food in households is no different from this. They cook 2 to 3 varieties of curries in small quantity and unlimited charu, pulusu, sambar and rasam etc. Off course it came as custom from our ancestors but the situation was different then. People used to live in joint families with large numbers, their standard of living and earnings were less, many of the families could not have afford to eat proper meals, many wouldn’t have got the seasonal vegetables and fruits due to poor marketing and transportation facility etc. Now the world has opened up. The standard of living and earnings have improved, marketing and transportation facilities have improved, and people are no longer living in joint families. Everything has changed but the old habits of eating have not changed. Many people feel their meal is incomplete if they don’t have sambar and rasam in their meals. Now let us try to understand how this bad habit of eating charu, pulusu, sambar and rasam gives rise to other health problems.
4. Excess consumption of tamarind in charu, pulusu, sambar and rasam etc., leads to obesity. Sambar, rasam is nothing but a kind of soup made up of water and handful of pulses, spices and tamarind juice. You can’t eat phulkas, chapattis and other likely food with sambar and rasam. Therefore you eat rice with it. It prompts you to consume more white rice which in turn leads to obesity. If you have noticed people eating food in hotels, messes and tiffin centers put on excess bellies.
5. Excess use of tamarind leads to high blood pressure and other heart ailments. The sourness of the tamarind leads to excess consumption of salt. If you are eating something like sambar and rasam it needs more salt. Firstly due to sourness of the tamarind and secondly due to the amount of water added in it. I have already explained in my previous blog how salt leads to hypertension and heart related ailments.
6. Tamarind leads to gas trouble and indigestion. On eating certain vegetables like Egg plants, potatoes, elephant foot yam etc. you complain gas trouble, indigestion and body aches. But the culprit is not the vegetable. The culprit is the sourness of the tamarind in addition to excess salt, oil, and other spices. You unnecessarily blame the vegetable.
7. Excess use of tamarind if consumed along with spicy, oily and salted food hampers digestion producing excess gas causing damage to the sticky layer of the stomach and also kills some of the free radicals helping the immunity system.
8. Dr. Raju recommends unripe tamarind for sourness as the harmful substances do not develop at this stage. Even the tamarind leaves when they are freshly budding can be used in various recipes.
If you have read this carefully, you would have now clearly understood how deeply he studied the south Indian cuisine and problems related with it. It really amazed me how all the benefits of tamarind turned into harm.