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My daughter likes it sour. Sour gum, sour candies. It’s all the rage on kids TV shows. The ads seem to say “How sour can you take it?” Like hot sauces for adults, pucker power for kids is in. Maybe that’s why she likes the flavour of tamarind.

Tamarinds grow in tropical climates. The tamarind tree is large and leafy. It is a good shade tree and the long pods that hang from its branches look like large brown lima beans. The pulp inside is thick, fibrous and slightly sticky and surrounds large shiny dark-brown seeds.

The flavour of fresh tamarind is slightly woody with prune and orange overtones. It can range from just a bit sweet to as lemon sour. In fact, tamarind juice is commonly used in Asian cooking as lemon juice is used in a lot of Western cooking. It is a common ingredient in chutneys and Worcestershire sauce. Chez Louis, in the Jean Talon Market, has fresh tamarind pods from Thailand. They come in large boxes but you can buy smaller amounts.

Tamarind concentrate and powder is sold in many stores but the best way to use it is to buy it in a pressed block of tamarind pulp and seeds, sold in many Asian and Caribbean grocery stores. Making the pulp usable requires a little effort but it is worth it. Take off the amount you need from the brick—the size of an egg should be enough—and leave it covered in warm water for a half hour. Pull the pulp from the seeds and discard them. The residue will consist of pulp and water. Use this in South Asian and Latin American recipes. Or to make a simple chutney, mix the pulp and water with a little sugar, cornstarch and freshly grated ginger and cook this enough to thicken.

A wonderful summery drink that is more refreshing than lemonade is made from tamarind pulp and more water with sugar to taste. Tamarind candy is also a great way to enjoy this flavour. These are chewy with a nice balance of sweet and sour. Be careful when you bite in because they may still have seeds inside.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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