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Some of you may already know that sour tamarind, which is usually referred to as tamarind, is one of the main seasonings in Thai cooking, that gives a natural sour flavor.

In fact, there is another kind of tamarind which is a popular fruit snack among Thais, called makham wan or sweet tamarind. Makham means tamarind and wan means sweet. Let's find out more about this unique fruit...

Tamarind fruit grows on a tamarind tree, which can be up to 15-25 meters tall. Both the trees and fruits of tamarind and sweet tamarind look the same. This exotic-looking fruit has a pod-like shape and is often curved. As the fruit ripens, the brown shell separates from the meat and becomes thin and brittle. When you crack open the shell, you'll see sticky brown pulp covering black seeds.

Sour tamarind fruits hanging on a tree in Thailand.

The difference between these two kinds of tamarind is the flavor. Tamarind tastes extremely sour, while sweet tamarind is sweet, as the name suggests.

Tamarind trees can be found all over Thailand, but sweet tamarind is only grown in certain provinces, especially Phetchabun. The harvest season is from November to February.

What do Thais use tamarind for?


Sour tamarind pulp for Thai cooking.

The main use of tamarind is in Thai cooking, from phad Thai sauce to spicy soup and chili sauce. After the shells and seeds have been removed, the sticky brown flesh called makham piak is pressed together into small balls, that is ready to be used. If you travel to a small village, you may still see an old woman sitting on a simple wooden platform under a tamarind tree, removing tamarind shells and seeds.

This is a way diligent elderly, in rural areas, spend their pastime.

A big tamarind tree in Thailand.

Other than that, the tamarind pulp is used to make tamarind juice, candy and all sorts of tamarind preserves, which usually has a bite of spicy flavor from chili.

Tamarind juice and snacks are popular in Thailand.

Sweet Tamarind

Since sweet tamarind is a delicious dried fruit, the ripe meat is normally eaten straight from the pod, as a snack. If you travel through Phetchaboon or other northern provinces like Loei, during the Christmas holiday, you shouldn't miss out on trying fresh sweet tamarind sold in nets, plastic bags or per weight. It makes a practical snack, since it can be kept without refrigeration for many days.

To celebrate the sweet tamarind harvest, Phetchabun province holds an annual fair in January, with agricultural exhibitions and entertainment.

Loei province also hosts an annual fair in February, celebrating the sweet tamarind and cotton harvests.

More About Tamarind Fruit

Thai tamarind snacks come in different flavors.

Tamarind snacks are normally sweet, because they are made of tamarind with added sugar or honey.

Tamarind and sweet tamarind can be stored in the fridge for months.

Tamarind is a natural laxative, like prunes.

With it's natural fiber, tamarind meat can also be used to polish brass.

Don't buy pods with cracks or holes, since there can be insects, worms or mold inside.

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