In North Central Thailand you will find the Province of Phetchabun, not to be confused with Phetchaburi Province north of Hua Hin.
Phetchabun has lofty limestone outcrops and views to savor. The province is noted for the sweet tamarind; the higher elevation and cooler climate encouraging the trees to flourish.
I was lucky to meet Ms Wannakarn Srisawan (pictured), who buys fresh tamarind from wholesalers, and markets a number of delicious and unusual tamarind products. She told me more about this special fruit and her home province of Phetchabun.
Winter is the harvest season of this delicious fruit from November to early March. Festivals are held in Phetchabun in January and nearby Loei Province a month later, to celebrate this, most wonderful fruit.
So what is the Tamarind tree and the prized fruit?The tamarind tree produces reddish brown curved seed pods, which holds several seeds encased in a moist, sticky, dark brown flesh. It can vary between being very sweet and very sour. When the tamarind has matured, the brown outer shell becomes very thin, making it easy to separate from the fresh
The beautiful impressive tamarind tree grows to about 25 metres, and is often seen standing majestically in some of Bangkok’s parks and it also provides welcome shade in resident’s gardens throughout the nation.
There is also sour tamarind; found extensively in parts of India and Africa as well, nevertheless Thailand produces the largest quantities of sweet tamarind, and Phetchabun possesses the sweetest of all.
The sour tamarind is used extensively in Thai cooking, imparting a delicious fruity tartness to soups, salads stir fries and sauces. You may have tried Pad Thai (stir-fried rice noodle) this famous street food – includes tamarind sauce.
Numerous tamarind snacks and sweets are made with the addition of honey and sugar.
Fortunately tamarind has a long shelf life and can be stored in the fridge for several months.
Not only is the tamarind a delicacy, the health benefits are endless. Polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They can protect and combat against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Seed extract can assist lowering blood sugar. It has an abundance of vitamins, minerals and fibre. One study revealed that flavonoids present in tamarind lowered LDL “bad” cholesterol and raised HDL “good” cholesterol levels.
Other uses include the silver factories of Chiang Mai, Tamarind is used to give extra shine and sparkle to tooled silver bowls, it will also give jewelry an impeccable sheen.
You don’t have long to find fresh Tamarind this season, you might be lucky to see some in the larger markets.
The tamarind with it’s amazing cooking versatility and added health benefits, make it a must have to residents and tourists alike. Incidentally Phetchabun; ‘the Little Switzerland of Thailand has some astounding scenery and is certainly worth a visit.