Unpeeled tamarind fruit in a bowl.

Did you know that chefs and culinary professionals named tamarind as their 2024 flavor of the year? McCormick, known for selling spices, designates a trending flavor every year. This year, the flavor is tamarind, referring to the tamarind fruit native to eastern continents. Ahead of the curve, Midwest Food Connection educators have been teaching with tamarind for many years, as part of our winter food education lessons where students experience the sensory tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. With its unique flavor, the tamarind fruit exposes children to a new world of fruit and food. 

What is Tamarind?

Tamarind is the fruit of the tamarind tree, which is indigenous to tropical Africa but long ago established itself in Asia. Eventually, the fruit came to the Americas via travel and trade routes. Shaped like a legume, benefits of the tamarind fruit include health advantages, because it is rich in nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and vitamin B. Food is health, after all. However, as great as tamarind is for the body and mind, it is also popular for its one-of-a-kind flavor.

Teaching with Tamarind

In my classrooms, students take a break from our frigid Minnesota winter and travel around the tropics by tasting sour fruits grown in much warmer climates. I cut open a blood orange and hear students “aah” at the color of the rich, red fruit. They pucker their lips when tasting the intense sharpness of a plain lemon slice. Papayas, pomelos, kiwis, and kumquats also make appearances.

However, it is the tamarind fruit that most often catches students’ attention. Tamarind’s brittle bean-shaped pods are examined with its hard, bumpy shell. The shell snaps open with a crackling noise when pressed, revealing a sticky, pulpy deep-brown fruit. For some, tamarind is a new taste experience, while for others, it is more familiar. The tang of the fruit itself, however, never disappoints when students taste its deep, sour citrus-like flavor that lingers when chewed.

The tamarind fruit benefits students in making cultural connections and experiencing new foods that they can later incorporate into at-home meals or snacks.

With a newfound curiosity, questions arise about how to eat tamarind fruit, ideas sparking for ways students can add the fruit into their everyday diets: “Can I eat the fruit raw?” “Can you cook with it?” “Is it a seasoning?” “Can it be made into a sauce, dip, or marinade?” Answer:  Yes!


What Does Tamarind Taste Like?

Tamarind fruit grows on trees in pods, which contain the tamarind beans (pictured). The beans can be eaten when the pod is ready to be cracked open.

Tamarind is known for its unique and widely applicable taste. It is often stated that tamarind fruit tastes of sweet and sour, with some identifying tart, nutty, and tangy flavors. 

What is tamarind good for in the kitchen? If you have ever eaten Pad Thai noodles, seasoned food with Worcestershire sauce, or tasted a traditional Mexican chili, then you have likely sampled tamarind’s flavor. From flavoring curries and cakes to spicing soups and stews, tamarind’s global appeal can be found in savory, sour, and sweet dishes and sipped in sodas, cocktails, and iced teas. 

Backyard gardens are common, many Hmong people have hobby farms, and some like Mhonpaj Lee have even started larger ventures, making a living from growing food.


Tamarindo: Try It at Home

When shopping at a local international mart in Minneapolis recently, a staff member noticed me pondering the tamarind and exclaimed, “tamarindo!” Note that tamarindo is often used as an alternative word for tamarind, or to describe a tamarind-infused drink or liquid. The tamarind in my hand evoked a childhood memory of his father in Mexico gently stirring the fruit’s pulp over a hot stove while making syrup. His memory transported me to a different place and time, where I could imagine and almost taste the description of his favorite childhood treat: raspados. 

With an added touch of sugar, the sour pulp transforms to a sweet, liquid paste. When cooled, the syrup is poured over shaved ice, sno-cone style.  Raspados is the ultimate treat on a hot summer day.

My chance encounter has inspired me to try my hand at raspados. It has also reminded me that although tamarind is now trending, it is an old flavor that has graced tables around the world for thousands of years. Tamarindo benefits children especially, because they get introduced to the flavor through a sweet treat that still contains the health benefits of the tamarind fruit itself. Why not make your own memory and give it a try?


Midwest Food Connection teaches food education in classrooms across the Twin Cities and beyond. We help students build relationships with their food, and understand how their food choices connect to their environment and community. Through exploring new foods, healthy cooking, and gardening, kids get excited about learning how to nurture their bodies and the environment. 

Want to bring MFC to your classroom? Sign up for lessons or follow us on social media to keep up with what we’re up to!