Tamarind, Fruit of the Future

The idea of writing about tamarind inspired by a famous Indonesian saying “Asam di gunung, garam di laut bertemu dalam satu belanga” literally translated as “Tamarind on the mountain, salt in the sea meet in one pot”.  Meaning: even things that are far apart can meet as one.

This usually used to express a relationship from two very different entities. Or, in the context of match-making, even two persons of different backgrounds or from distant places can meet and eventually get married.

Hey, what is this? 

Am I suddenly changing from blogging about cooking to relationship or anything like that?

No, no, no ….I am still very much consistent in the cooking area….:-)

So, lets go back to the real topic of this post ……T-A-M-A-R-I-N-D

Tamarind or Tamarindus indica is a tropical fruit tree which grows in dry/monsoonal climates. It belongs to the family Leguminosae (Fabaceae). The fruits are usually between 5 and 14 cm in length and approximately 2 cm wide.

The tamarind tree can produce an annual fruit yield in the range of 150-500 kg/tree, it is easy and cheap to cultivate and free of any serious pests and diseases.

Tamarind is therefore a sustainable resource with positive environmental benefits. The tree provides perennial cover thus protecting the soil and aiding in the storage and recycling of plant nutrients and organic matter.

Why Fruit of the Future?

Tamarind is best known for its fruits. The sticky pulp is often eaten fresh but has many other culinary uses for example in pickles, jams, candy, juice and drinks.  

The pulp is high in potassium, phosphorus and calcium, it also contains iron and a good source of the vitamins thiamin and niacin.  Tamarind could therefore contribute significantly to the nutrition of low income rural households, especially children.

Sweet and tangy tamarind fruit is one of the widely used condiment spice found in every South-east Asian kitchens!

Tamarind fruit  is also a key ingredient in Indonesia. The fruits are very often used, not only for food but also for beverages and as an important souring agent in jamu, or traditional herbal drinks.

The fruit flesh is also daily needed for syrups or to make preserved sweets or tamarind candy

So far it has no known reported cases of allergic or toxic incidences and may be safely used in pregnancy.

In Indonesian cuisine, tamarind fruit is commonly used in the form of a paste, which can be found in traditional markets compressed into sticky, brown block like this:

The paste is mixed with hot water and palm sugar to create a thick and tangy sauce like this:

Although many Westerners may be unfamiliar with the name, they have almost certainly tasted tamarind, which is a key ingredient in Worcestershire and HP sauce.

The regional cuisines of Indonesia also have varied uses of tamarind paste while cooking. In general, tamarind is used as a flavoring agent in savory as well as sweet dishes. Each region across the archipelago has its own unique tamarind-dish.

The best known sour-flavored soup dish from the kitchen of the Sundanese of West Java is Sayur Asem and is commonly served with a combination of a barbecued or fried chicken or fish, and also sambal terasi (please see my last week post “So Ugly yet So Tasty“)

If we move further to East Java, the best known dish using tamarind is ‘Garang Asem Iga’ or also known as ‘Asem-Asem Iga’. 

Garang means grill, Asem is sour-flavored and Iga is spare-ribs so this can be translated as Spare-ribs Sour-flavored Soup.  I inherited the recipe from my mother hence it’s so special….

Here’s my Mom’s original recipe of Garang Asem Iga


  • 750 gram beef ribs, cut into 5 cm length
  • 2 cm ginger, finely sliced
  • 2 stalks of lemon grass, the white part only, bruised
  • 5 Kaffir lime leaves, take out the bone
  • 2 salam leaves
  • 2 cm galangal, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, cut into 4
  • 10 bird’s eye chilies (the amount of chilies depends on whether you like it hot or not)
  • 3 tablespoons Indonesian sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tamarind sauce (made from 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste diluted in 3 tablespoons warm water)
  • 1 liter water

Ingredients for grilled spices

  • 3 red chilies
  • 7 shallots, bruised
  • 5 cloves garlic, bruised
  • 2 cm turmeric

Wrapped all the ingredients with banana leaf or  aluminum foil. Then grilled for around 10 minutes until the spices are burnt (note: this is the secret part of the recipe. If you don’t grill the spices, the taste of the dish would not be original).


  • Pour the water in a pan,  put  on medium heat
  • Put the ribs  into the warm water (note: the best way to cook ribs is  in warm water)
  • Add in the ginger, lemon grass, salam leaves, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal
  • Cook for around 20 minutes, until the soup is fragrant
  • Un-wrap the  grilled spices, add in to the soup
  • Cover and simmer until the ribs are tender
  • Add in the chilies, tomato, kecap manis, salt, palm sugar and the tamarind sauce
  • Cook f0r a few more minutes
  • Remove from heat, put in a bowl
  • Serve warm with rice

And this is the look of my Garang Asem Iga (Spare-ribs Sour-flavored Soup) – so refreshing. Simply a Must Try Dish!



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