One of the wild fruits to be found in some Kenyan markets is tamarind, locally known as ukwaju.
The tree, mkwaju, scientifically known as Tamarindus indica is large, evergreen, crowndense, widely spreading and greyish-brown.
Its leaves are alternate and compound. The flowers are an attractive pale yellow or pinkish, small and with lax spikes.
The fruit is a pod, straight or curved, velvety, rusty-brown. The shell of the pod is brittle and the seeds are embedded in a sticky edible pulp.
The fruit, both ripe and dry, contains mainly tartaric acid, reducing sugars, pectin, tannin, fibre and cellulose.
The whole seeds also contain protein, fat, sugars and carbohydrates. Both pulp and seeds are good sources of potassium, calcium and phosphorous and contain other minerals such as sodium, zinc and iron.
Uses of tamarind
Tamarind is commonly used in the form of pulp that is a chief ingredient for souring curries, sauces, chutneys and certain beverages.
The immature green pods are often eaten and dipped in salt as a snack. The tender pods are also used as seasoning for cooked rice stew (biriyani stew), meat and fish.
Tamarind fruit is also used as a raw material for the preparation of wine-like beverages. Its juice and concentrates are both produced and marketed at the Coast.
The concentrate is promoted as good for culinary purposes. The tender leaves, flowers and the young seedlings are eaten as a vegetable and used in curries, salads, stews and soups.
The flowers are considered a good source of honey, which is rich golden in colour, but has slight a peculiar kind of acidity.
Tamarind brown, the natural food colour from tamarind, is widely used in Asian countries as a food colourant.
The kernels are used as a substitute for pectin in making jams, jellies and marmalades. They are also used as a stabiliser in ice cream and mayonnaise.
Besides the various food uses, tamarind fruits and other extracts from the tree have a number of reported applications.
Tamarind seed is a raw material used in the manufacture of oil and tannin. Its pulp, mixed with sea salt, has been reported to polish brass, copper and silver.
An infusion of the whole pod is added to dye when colouring goat hides.
The fruit pulp is used as a fixative with turmeric in dyeing. The tree also yields valuable timber and the wood is used mostly for tool-handles and spices pounders.
Its evergreen nature and the beautiful flowers make the tree suitable for ornamental planting in parks, gardens and homes.
Toffees: The tamarind pulp is mixed with sugar, wrapped and sold as toffees
Pickles: They are made using the pulp, sugar and spices.
Tamarind balls: The pulp and sugar are used to make sweet meats.
Juice concentrate: Used to make refreshing drinks and beverages.
Pulp powder: Used to enrich and as a flavour in various food dishes.
Syrup: Made by boiling the immature fruit pulp until it is soft, then strained using cheesecloth.
Jam: Made from the ripe fruit.
The food industry can replace imported spices and additives that are expensively acquired with tamarind fruit, which is locally grown mostly in Eastern and coastal areas of the country.
The writer is based at the Department of Human Nutrition, Egerton University.