If as a Jamaican child you weren’t exposed to tamarind then I feel like it’s time to revoke your Jamaican card. I remember there being a big tamarind tree on the other side of the fence for the playing field at my prep school. The tree was so big, that there were quite a few overhanging branches and, if you were lucky, you might find a pod or two (is it weird to call it a pod? I’ve never thought about that until now) and you could break it open and enjoy the sour snack inside.
As I grew older I lost my taste for all things sour, but still enjoyed the flavour of tamarind, especially as an accompanying sauce to samosas. Then, somewhere along the line, I was introduced to sweet tamarind from the tree we have growing at home in the country. Unlike the sour variety, this was a fruit the adult me could fully get behind. Usually I just enjoy them as is, but with this year’s harvest I decided to try making some tamarind balls instead.
Tamarind balls are a Jamaican staple, and it’s kind of like the OG sour patch candy, sour and sweet. Basically you take the tamarind flesh and you mix it with sugar until it’s not quite as sticky and a lot more malleable, then you roll it into a ball and then you coat it in more sugar.
Sounds simple enough, and if you have the patience to scrape the tamarind flesh off the seed then it’s much better because you end up with seedless tamarind balls. However, if you don’t have the patience of Job, then it’s even easier. You don’t have to clean off all the seeds, just do some and then when you roll the tamarind flesh together, the seeds that remain form the core of your tamarind balls.
Enid Donaldson, in her book The Real Taste of Jamaica (no Jamaican kitchen is complete without a copy of this) recommends rubbing the tamarind on a sieve to remove the flesh from the seed. I normally use a spoon and/or a butter spreader to scrape it off, but the next time I make it I think I’ll give her method a try.
- Tamarind (sweet or sour, it’s up to you)
- 1 Cup Sugar (white or brown, again it’s your choice and don’t hesitate for more if needed)
- Flavouring (some people like to add flavouring – rum/cinnamon/nutmeg – this is completely optional)
- Crack all the tamarind pods and remove the edible portion and any stringy bits
- Remove the flesh from the seeds and set aside
- Once all the flesh is removed, spread it out on a plate or cutting board and sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar, making sure to thoroughly coat the tamarind spread
- Mix in the sugar well and then, using a spoon, scoop out about one teaspoon and roll between your palms forming a small ball
- Sprinkle the remaining third of the sugar on a separate surface and use that to coat the tamarind ball
- Set aside until all are complete
Yes, these have a lot of sugar, but it’s a treat, and if you’re looking for a good excuse to eat them anyway, think of all the nutritional benefits of tamarind. Healthline says it’s high in magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin) and there are also trace amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), copper and selenium.
If you decide to give this a try, let me know how it turns out, or not, but either way enjoy!