Tamarind season runs from roughly January to March in Jamaica. The sour tasting fruit grows four or five in a pod, each with a small, flat black seed. When ripe, the pod becomes a light brown brittle shell that breaks easily to expose the sticky fruit.
Tamarind is indigenous to Africa and likely came to the Jamaica and the Caribbean with enslaved Africans. It is high in tartaric acid, B vitamins and calcium. Tamarind grows easily and can be found in tropical countries around the world. Is a favorite with children and adults who savor its sour taste.
There are many ways to enjoy tamarind, which we call tambrin. The best way by far, is to peel off the shell and eat it. Once the fruit hits your tongue, maybe even before, your mouth will begin to pucker. But that doesn’t stop the tamarind lover who can’t eat only one.
We also separate the fruit from the shell to make tamarind paste, and remove the pulp, add sugar and spices and roll it into tamarind balls (above), or make it into a drink, which is quite refreshing.
I hadn’t seen tamarind balls for a long time after I left Jamaica. Then I noticed them in a grocery store in the Washington, DC area, bought some and started eating them before I got to my car. As expected, my mouth began to water when the tamarind hit my tongue but it was the pepper that shook up my taste buds. I’d never had tamarind balls with pepper before. Ours is typically made with sugar and one or two spices. Curious, I looked at the package – it was made in Malaysia.
At one meeting of my book club, the discussion turned to tamarind. One of the members mentioned that she had found sweet tamarind in the supermarket. That shocked all of us — our group was mostly women from the Caribbean who were used to sour tamarind. So she promised and brought sweet and sour ones to the next meeting. We set aside the book we were supposed to be discussing, ate the tamarinds and reminisced about our childhoods. Almost everyone said they preferred the sour ones.
I love to use tamarind in cooking as it goes well with fish, seafood or meats. One of the dishes I prepared for Christmas dinner last year was roast pork with tamarind reduction. I did it on the fly so I don’t have a recipe but I found a Tamarind Jerk Pork recipe at yummily.com that I’m sharing below.
You can find tamarind in grocery stores or supermarkets that sell tropical or Asian foods. It is one of the ingredients that give Worcestershire sauce its flavor and color.
Tamarind Season in Jamaica – the period after Christmas
In Jamaica, the period after Christmas, when consumers have less to spend and stores experience a decline in sales, is called the tamarind season, possibly because it is the beginning of the planting season and only a few fruits, mostly citrus, are in season.
- • 800 g piece lean boneless pork
- For the jerk marinade
- • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
- • 2 tbsp dark rum
- • 1 tbsp lime juice
- • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- • 2 tbsp allspice berries, crushed
- • 1 cinnamon stick, ground, or 1-2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- • 2-3 chillies, chopped
- • 2.5 cm ginger, grated
- • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- • 1 tbsp finely chopped thyme leaves
- • 1 tsp light brown sugar
- 1. For the jerk marinade: place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
- 2. Make small incisions in the pork using a sharp knife and rub the marinade into the meat. Cover with cling film and chill for up to 48 hours, depending on the desired intensity of flavour, but at least overnight.
- 3. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Place the pork in a medium ovenproof baking dish, cover with foil and roast for 1½–2 hours, or until it is soft and well coloured. Alternatively the pork can be cooked on a barbecue.
- 4. Remove from the oven, leave to rest for 10-15 minutes then carve and serve.
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