The sour and sweet smack of tamarind is one of the hottest fruit flavorings today, whether in drinks, sauces or marinades.

The fruit of the tamarind tree is housed in a hard, elongated, furry, cinnamon-colored pod. The sticky, fibrous pulp surrounds seeds; its taste brings to mind a combination of date and apricot with the pucker-power of lemon.

Tamarind pods are sold in their natural state, either dried or frozen. Tamarind is also available as a compressed cake of fruit pulp. In this state it is time-consuming to use because there's simmering and straining to be done before the pulp becomes tamarind juice, the ingredient required in many recipes.

In recent years we've seen an increasing number of prepared tamarind concentrates and pastes. But because the flavor and consistency of these products vary, there is no exact equivalent when substituting paste for tamarind juice. Look carefully at recipes to be certain whether the ingredient called for is tamarind juice, concentrate or paste; if its the former, use paste sparingly at first and taste as you go until the desired flavor is achieved.

-- Walter Nicholls

Tamarind pods are sold in their natural state but the pulp is also available as a compressed cake, a prepared concentrate or a paste.