Thailand at Work – Harvesting Tamarind Fruit

A rustle in a tree near to our garden gate alerted me to something unusual going on. My new eyeglasses zoomed in to show a woman high up in the tree and activity at ground level.

Four women were collecting fruit from the tree. What the fruit was I didn’t know, hell, I’ve only been visiting the village for eight years. You can’t know everything. Even if it is, and has been, outside your front gate for many years.

I decided to find out what fruit they were collecting because it had to be a precious one to risk life and limb. Then again, this kind of treacherous act is part and parcel of Thai village life and the age-old idiom of making ends meet. The women were harvesting tamarind fruit (Thai: มะขาม  mak-haam).

A young woman was two-thirds up the tree shaking tamarind pods from the branches, and one of the three women below was doing similar with a long bamboo pole. The two other tamarind harvesters were collecting the pods.

The four women gathered a massive haul of tamarind fruit and a few days later I spotted them a few hundred yards down the road stripping another tamarind tree of its pods.

The edible fruit is sold at most Thai markets. The outside shell of the tamarind pod is hard and brittle and when cracked open reddish-yellow pulp like fruit sits inside very much like peas in a pod.

The fruit is often described as having a sweet and sour taste. The more ripe the fruit, the sweeter it is. The one I tasted was sweet and flavoursome. Some pods are stripped and the sticky textured fruit inside used to sweeten and sour Thai soups, sauces and salads. From a western stance, both HP and Worcestershire sauce have tamarind in their mix.

Each of the tamarind pods contains many seeds which the gooey fruit gels itself around. The pod in the above picture has about seven seeds. I read on the internet that the seeds were inedible, but that’s not so. They are a popular snack for Thais.

They are lightly cooked by heating and continually tossing them in a wok for about five minutes, and when ready, the seeds smell very much like roasted chestnuts although their taste and texture are a lengthy bamboo pole apart.

Once roasted, tamarind seeds are rock hard and a danger to the enamel on your teeth. Their taste to me was very bland too. You crack open the outer shell of the seed with your teeth and inside is a warm but granite-like kernel. To hear somebody eating one is like listening to someone grinding their teeth in front of a high volume microphone. The seeds are a fruity type of pork crackling and an open cheque book to any dental practice. Nonetheless, tamarind fruit is a valuable source of income for Thai villagers and another excellent example of Thailand at work.

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I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

8 Responses

  1. Catherine says:

    Martyn, I’ve been cooking with tamarind for years but eating the seeds is totally new to me. And… I seriously wouldn’t enjoy the pleasure of breaking all my teeth off so I’ll pass! Eating fresh tamarind (the sweet version as apposed to the sour) is something I do enjoy though.

  2. Martyn says:

    Catherine – I’ve tried tamarind fruit quite a few times over the years and quite like the sweet ones. Their taste and texture is quite unusual but I must admit I don’t have the patience to crack open too many.

    Thanks for the tweet and I love the feed address attached to it:

    Goo seems very appropriate for tamarind fruit.

    I’ll tweet your Nootropics post and see if it comes up with noo.

  3. Kia says:

    I’ve tried eating the fruit when I visited Thailand two years ago and I love it. In fact, I ate too much that I ended up with Hyperacidity (and a scolding from my nurse wife).

  4. Martyn says:

    Kia – I hope you’ll be returning to Thailand soon for another nibble or two on Tamarind fruit. Bananas give me Hyperacidity.

  5. DanPloy says:

    ‘Soi Buffalo’.

    Named because of your residency, Martyn?

  6. Martyn says:

    DanPloy – I didn’t look at it that way. Maybe it’s not just my name for the street. Perhaps the locals have also named it that because of me.

  7. Snap says:

    Martyn, apologies for my absence of late. I did try and comment via my smart 🙁 phone while away, but alas, no luck. I was going to say, I love fresh tamarind. The best I’ve ever tasted was big and plump and in a rural village outside of Chiang Rai. Cheap too in comparison to what they charge in Rimping! They remind me of all dried fruits rolled into one 🙂

  8. Martyn says:

    Snap – No apologies needed, I’ve been AWOL a bit myself lately. It’s good to see you’ve got your blog up and running again.

    Rimping…I had to check where that is…Chiang Mai. Tamarind would definitely be cheaper in a rural village although many things aren’t. Gasoline for instance is always a baht or two more expensive per litre.

    Tamarind does have many different tastes rolled into one.

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