Industrial potential of Tamarind tree (Tsamiya)

Nigeria is blessed with many cash-trees with huge industrial potential and Tamarind is one of them. Tamarind is a large fruit tree found mostly in Asia and tropical Africa. The tamarind tree is known to the Hausa as tsamiya. It thrives in practically all soil types and could be found virtually anywhere growing wild. Its numerous uses and hardy, long lasting nature add it to the long list of Nigeria’s endowments, still hiding in plain sight.

In India, it has become an industrial raw material of note patronised by the pharmaceutical and food industries and a valuable export product. Here in Nigeria, although it grows in abundance all around us, it has yet to be harnessed for the promise it holds for the establishment of primary processing industries that can package the products for use by industry to reduce the foreign exchange currently expended on its importation.

Some research institutes in the country are currently packaging their findings on the huge potential of tamarind for import substitution in local industry. There are also indications that some local manufacturers have already adopted some of these findings in the manufacture of food seasonings.

The tamarind grows slowly, lives long and, given favourable conditions, will reach heights of about 80 to 100 feet and a trunk circumference of about 25 feet. It is highly wind-resistant, with strong, supple branches, gradually drooping at the ends, and has dark-gray, rough, cracked bark.

The fruits are beanlike, irregularly curved pods and grow abundantly on the new branches. These pods contain a green, highly acidic pulp rich in phosphorus, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and strangely enough for a fruit, calcium; it turns brown as they mature. When extracted, this pulp can be packaged for export without added preservatives due to its long shelf life.

Tamarind seeds can remain viable for months, but would germinate about a week after planting. Previously, propagation was by seeds sown in position, so that the seedlings were protected by the branches.

Currently though, tamarind saplings are grown in nurseries. The ever- increasing commercial potential of tamarind products has sparked a keen interest in selected varieties of the tree, which are now deliberately cultivated for its many applications.

In some countries, like Puerto Rico, tamarind fruits are made into syrups, jellies and jams, which are canned both for domestic use and for export. They may be combined with other fruits such as guava and papaya to make fruit preserves and are sometimes made into wine.

This is one product that would be found very useful in indigenous production of wines since Nigerians do not have the patience and commitment, according to experts, to use local fruits in the production of wines.

The wood from this tree is generally strong, insect resistant and durable; making it ideal for furniture and the making of tools. Among its less obvious uses, the leaves of the tamarind are useful as fodder for livestock and even silk worms. This versatile tree also finds use in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

The fruits of the tamarind grow in abundance and are treasured for their pulp, especially in Asia and South America, where they are used in syrups, beverages and sauces.

The kernels are also said to contain about 46 per cent of a gel forming substance. In fact, a process for the production of pectin from tamarind (used in the production of jams and jellies) was patented by Dr. Savur in Bombay. Tamarind pectin has been found to be superior to fruit pectin and can be used in fruit preserving without acids. The seeds can also be roasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute; in Thailand they are even packaged and sold for this purpose.

Tamarinds generally have a long shelf life so preservation is an easy process. They may be shelled, layered with sugar and covered with syrup and then kept in a cool dry place. They may also be shelled and sprinkled with salt (as was done by the East Indians) or, the pulp could be extracted, mixed with salt and then packed into cakes (this is the current practice in India). In order to preserve it for long periods, the pounded cakes are usually sun-dried for several days before being packaged for marketing.

Tamarinds are also used in making Tamarind Ade; a popular tropical beverage now sold in carbonated form in parts of South America. The Ade can be prepared at home by simply placing a few shelled fruits in a bottle of water, allowing it to stand for some time and then adding a spoon of sugar and shaking the mixture vigorously. Sometimes syrup is added to enrich the beverage. The regular tamarind drink is often mixed with an equal amount of dark brown sugar and a spoon of this mixture added to a plain carbonated beverage and whipped in a blender to make a ‘tamarind shake.’

In herbal medicine, it is traditionally used to soothe inflammations; in preparing a gargle for sore throats and is administered to restore sensation in cases of paralysis. The leaves and flowers are applied as poultices to swellings and boils, while extracts from them are useful as antiseptics and even in the treatment of dysentery, conjunctivitis, haemorrhoids and other ailments.

Jennifer Abraham