The Influence of Tamarind on Trinidadian Cuisine


By Fernando Franco
CJ Contributor

With the heavy Indian influence on Trinidadian cuisine, I was not surprised to see tamarind used in so many recipes when I first came to the island. This brown, curved pod-like fruit, which grows on a tree, is native to Africa but can be grown in any tropical climate. Ripened tamarind has similar characteristics to dates — sticky in texture with a fruity yet tart flavor– explaining its Arabic translation tamar-hindi, meaning “Indian date.”

In addition to being used to enhance flavor in cooking, Tamarind is consumed for medicinal purposes.  Although it has a high sugar content, tamarind is rich in many vitamins and minerals including: calcium, iron, thiamin, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, niacin and fiber that are beneficial to our immune system, blood cells and bones, to name a few. Tamarind seeds and pulp also have cosmetic benefits, used mostly for facial products to obtain clear, glowing skin.

Most people who have tasted tamarind have likely tasted it in form of the tamarind ball – tamarind pulp rolled into a ball and coated with sugar – a sweet/tart treat enjoyed by many visitors to Trinidad and other Caribbean nations. Tamarind is also used to make sauces, dips (or chutney as it’s known in Trinidad) and add flavor to drinks.

Recently, a guest staying with us at Hyatt Regency Trinidad was inspired by my colleague Angelique to create her own tamarind coleslaw recipe. The guest, Angela Coleby, who currently resides in Barbados, actually has a tamarind tree in her backyard. While not everyone is lucky enough to have a tamarind tree in their backyard, depending on where you live, you may be able to find bottled tamarind concentrate in your local Asian market.

You can find the below recipe on her blog, Divalicious Recipes, which is where it originally appeared. Thanks Angela for sharing your recipe with us!

Tamarind Coleslaw

Servings: 1-2

Time: 15mins

Difficulty: easy


1/4 head white cabbage, thinly sliced

1/4 head red cabbage, thinly sliced

2 carrots, peeled and spiralized/grated

1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 tbsp. lime juice

2-3 spring onions, finely chopped

2 tbsp. coconut oil

2 teaspoon fresh tamarind

2 cherry tomatoes for garnish

1 tbsp. fresh mint, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

  1. 1. Mash the tamarind with the coconut oil into a paste.
  2. 2. Add the lime juice and chilli. Blend to make a dressing.
  3. 3. In a bowl place the cabbage, carrots and onion.
  4. 4. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and coat well.
  5. 5. Season to taste and add the fresh mint.
  6. 6. Garnish with the tomatoes.
  7. 7. Eat and enjoy!

Nutritional Information per serving – 176 Calories, 14g Fat, 2g Protein, 14 Carbs, 4g Fibre, 10g Net Carbs

Chef Fernando Franco is executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad.

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