The Mexican tamarind, also known as sweet tamarind or Mexican huisache, is a tree native to Mexico and Central America. It produces long, bean-like pods filled with an edible pulp that has a sweet and sour flavor. The Mexican tamarind is used to make drinks, candies, and other food products throughout its native region.
The Mexican tamarind tree can grow up to 65 feet tall and has pinnate leaves made up of 10-20 oval leaflets. The flowers are yellow with red veins and grow in clusters. The fruit is a tan, bean-like pod around 6-10 inches long that contains brown pulp surrounding large seeds.
What does a Mexican tamarind tree look like?
The Mexican tamarind is a medium to large deciduous tree reaching heights of 15-65 feet. It has a short trunk that can be around 1-3 feet in diameter with drooping branches that give it a vase or umbrella shape.
The bark is brown-gray and smooth when young but becomes fissured in long ridges as it matures. The twigs are slender and zig-zagging.
The leaves are pinnate, measuring 6-15 inches long, and made up of 10-20 oval leaflets that are 1-2 inches long. The leaves are green and hairless on top with paler undersides.
Clusters of fragrant yellow flowers bloom at branch tips from spring to fall. The flowers have five petals and grow in panicles 4-8 inches long.
The fruit is a tan, somewhat flattened, bean-like pod 6-10 inches long and 1 inch wide. The exterior is leathery and tough with a brittle texture when dried. Inside, it contains a sticky brown pulp surrounding 10-15 flat, elliptical seeds about 5/8 inch long.
Where does the Mexican tamarind grow?
The Mexican tamarind is native to Mexico and Central America. Its range extends from Sinaloa and Tamaulipas in Mexico south to Panama.
This plant thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. It grows well in both humid lowlands and drier inland valleys. The tree requires abundant sunlight and does not tolerate cold weather or frost.
The Mexican tamarind grows rapidly in disturbed areas, tolerating a wide variety of soils. It can be found along roadsides, forest edges, riverbanks, and as an ornamental in parks and gardens. The tree also grows on limestone and dry slopes, and adapts well to seasonally dry forests.
It has been introduced as an ornamental to Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, Florida, and scattered locations in Central and South America.
What does Mexican tamarind fruit taste like?
The fruit of the Mexican tamarind has a sweet-tart taste and pasty texture. When ripe, the pods contain a brown, sticky pulp surrounding large seeds.
The flavor is often described as a mix of dates, raisins, and lime. It offers a complex sweet and sour taste. The pulp has a jam-like stickiness and consistency.
Immature unripe pods are more sour. As the fruit ripens, it becomes sweeter with hints of caramel, prunes, and apricot. But the fruit retains a tart, acidic taste even when fully ripe.
The seeds and fibers are not eaten. They must be removed to enjoy the edible pulp. The taste and texture is similar to Asian tamarind but less sour, earning it the nickname ‘sweet tamarind.’
Some compare the flavor to date syrup or molasses combined with lime. It offers a unique taste that is both refreshing and suitable for use in sweets. The sweet-tart pulp has even been described as addictive!
What are some uses for Mexican tamarind?
The Mexican tamarind has many culinary uses thanks to its sweet and sour pulp. Here are some of the most popular ways to eat Mexican tamarind:
– Beverages – The pulp can be made into refreshing agua frescas, juices, concentrates, and carbonated drinks. It also works well diluted in water.
– Sweets – The sticky pulp is used to make candies, jellies, and even popsicles. It can also be used as a filling for churros.
– Sauces – Mexican tamarind pulp adds flavor to mole sauces, chutneys, and marinades for meats. It provides body and a touch of tartness.
– Snacks – Fruit leather, dried strips of the pulp, pickled pods, and fruit powders that offer a sweet-sour flavor.
– Preserves – The pulp makes jams, jellies, and fruit syrups that provide tartness.
– Spice – Ground dried pods can add sour notes to stews, soups, and sauces as a seasoning.
The pulp can also be used as a substitute for limes or vinegar to provide a sour element to dishes and balance sweetness.
What is the nutritional value of Mexican tamarind?
The Mexican tamarind is high in many nutrients and antioxidants:
– Calories – 240 calories per 100g of pulp
– Carbs – 63g per 100g, mostly natural sugars like glucose and fructose
– Fiber – 10% of RDI per 100g
– Vitamin C – 55% of RDI per 100g
– Iron – 17% of RDI per 100g
– Magnesium – 32% of RDI per 100g
– Potassium – 17% RDI per 100g
– Thiamine – 11% RDI per 100g
– Niacin – 19% RDI per 100g
The pulp is high in the amino acid proline. It also contains phytochemicals like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and furanocoumarins that act as antioxidants. The seeds are a good source of oils and plant protein.
Overall, the Mexican tamarind is a highly nutritious fruit loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and beneficial plant compounds. Adding it to the diet can boost health.
What are the health benefits of Mexican tamarind?
Some potential health benefits of the Mexican tamarind supported by research include:
– High in antioxidants that may help fight disease and aging
– Vitamin C boosts immunity and iron absorption
– Fiber aids digestion and heart health
– Anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce joint pain
– Antimicrobial properties that combat harmful bacteria
– Reduces fatigue and boosts circulation by balancing electrolytes
– Lowers blood pressure due to the mineral potassium
-Magnesium benefits bone strength and blood sugar control
– May lower cholesterol and triglycerides
– The antioxidant naringenin may have neuroprotective effects
Overall, moderation consumption as part of a healthy diet can contribute to wellbeing due to the unique nutrient and antioxidant profile of Mexican tamarind. More research is still needed on the specific effects on human health.
How do you harvest and eat Mexican tamarind?
Mexican tamarind is ready for picking when the pods turn completely brown and begin to split open. The best time is in the early fall around September and October in most regions.
To harvest, the seed pods can be picked by hand once fully ripe. Pruning sticks may be required to reach high branches on large trees. The fruits are collected in baskets or bags.
After harvesting, the pods should be opened up to remove the pulp:
1. Use a knife to peel off the outer shell, which is usually brittle when dried
2. Scrape off the fibers and peel away the outer layer of the pulp
3. Remove the hard seeds embedded inside
4. The brown pulp surrounding the seeds is the edible portion
The pulp can be eaten raw for a fresh sweet-tart flavor. It also can be cooked into sauces, used to flavor drinks, or processed into sweets. The fruits are also dried and ground into powders.
Precautions need to be taken when harvesting from roadside trees due to possible contamination from car exhaust. Ripe fruits should be consumed quickly and refrigerated for storage.
What climate does Mexican tamarind grow best in?
The Mexican tamarind thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. It requires hot weather and is sensitive to frost and cold temperatures. Ideal growing conditions include:
– Temperature: Prefers warm weather between 70-100°F (21-38°C). Needs at least 5 months over 65°F.
– Rainfall: Tolerates a wide range but prefers 30-80 inches annually. Can handle short dry periods.
– Soils: Grows well even in poor quality soils. Tolerates acidic, alkaline, saline, and sandy soils.
– Sunlight: Needs full sun exposure.
– Humidity: Tolerates humidity well but also dry air.
– Hardiness Zones: Can survive down to zone 9b but prefers zones 10-11.
The Mexican tamarind grows well in both lowland humid regions and hot, dry inland valleys. It tolerates poor soils and seasonal drought. But cold winters and frost will damage the tree.
Due to its heat and sun requirements, this plant grows best in tropical locations like Southern Florida, Southern California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and southern Texas. It also thrives in hot inland areas of Mexico and Central America.
Is Mexican tamarind the same as tamarind?
Mexican tamarind refers to a specific species, *Lysiloma acapulcensis*, that is native to Mexico and Central America. It is different from the common tamarind, *Tamarindus indica*, which originates from Africa.
While both are leguminous trees producing pod fruits, there are some key differences:
– Mexican tamarind has a smaller natural range limited to the Americas while common tamarind is pantropical.
– The fruits differ in size. Mexican tamarind pods are 6-10 inches long while common tamarind is 2-6 inches.
– Mexican tamarind is sweet and mildly sour. Common tamarind is very tart and sour.
– The pulp texture varies. Mexican tamarind is pasty while common tamarind is more dry and powdery.
– Common tamarind is used more for sour flavoring while Mexican tamarind is favored for sweets.
– Mexican tamarind trees are larger, reaching up to 65 feet tall compared to 50 feet for common tamarind.
So in summary, Mexican tamarind is a different species from the traditional tamarind, with distinct fruit characteristics and uses. But both add sweet and tart flavors to regional cuisines where they grow.
How to grow a Mexican tamarind tree
Mexican tamarind can be grown from seeds or transplanted as a nursery sapling. Here is a guide to growing this tropical fruit tree:
– Start seeds indoors in pots. Soak seeds 24 hours, then plant 1 inch deep in seed starter mix. Germinate at 70-80°F.
– Transplant sprouted seedlings into larger pots or bags after getting 6 inches tall. Use well-draining potting soil.
– Choose a site with full sun, shelter from wind, and well-draining soil. Amend soil with compost if needed.
– Plant young saplings outside after the last frost date once night temperatures stay above 50°F.
– Space trees at least 20 feet apart. Dig holes and fill with mix of native soil, compost, and peat moss.
– Water young trees regularly until established, about 2 inches per week. Add mulch to retain moisture.
– Apply fertilizer with micronutrients 2-3 times during growing season. Prune only for structure and dead wood.
– Protect from frost and cold when young using covers. Provide shade if planting in very hot climates.
– Trees will begin to bear fruit in 4-6 years. Harvest pods when brown and dry by twisting or clipping.
With ideal growing conditions and care, the Mexican tamarind makes a beautiful, fast-growing ornamental tree that also provides bountiful harvests of sweet and tart fruits.
The Mexican tamarind is a unique tropical fruit tree that produces sweet-sour pod fruits used extensively in regional cuisines. While related to the traditional tamarind, it offers distinct fruit characteristics and favors use in drinks and sweets more than savory dishes. This fast-growing tree thrives in hot, humid climates and can be propagated from seed. With attention to its ideal growing needs, the Mexican tamarind can provide ornamental beauty and bountiful fruit harvests. Its nutritious pulp high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants also contributes to a healthy diet. This ancient tree from Mexico and Central America deserves to be more widely known and grown for its landscape value and delicious edible pods.