When can babies eat tamarind?
Tamarind may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
Background and origins of tamarind
Commonly sold as a paste in jars and added to dishes for its sweet and sour flavors, tamarind pulp comes from the pods of a fruit tree native to Africa and India and is now a key ingredient in cooking all over the globe. In Iran, tamarind is used to tenderize meats and season fish; in India, it flavors chutneys, curries, and dals; in Mexico and the Caribbean islands, it is sweetened to make agua fresca and candies; in the Philippines, it adds lip-puckering bite to marinades and soups. Whole tamarind pods and products made from the pulp (concentrate, paste, powder, syrup) are sometimes marketed as “sour” or “sweet” but don’t be fooled: they are all tangy and tart thanks to the fruit’s natural acidity. The labels simply refer to the time that the fruit pods spend aging on the tree. The longer they ripen, the sweeter they get.
★Tip: New to tamarind? The fruit can be purchased in the pods, as a concentrate, as a paste, or as a powder. Breaking down tamarind pods to extract the pulp is a tedious task at best so if you are new to tamarind, buy the paste or powder to introduce this sweet-sour flavor, and hold on the concentrate until your child is acclimated to the taste. A little paste or powder goes a long way! Just the tip of a spoonful is enough to add a flavor bomb to your next sauce, soup, or stew!
Is tamarind healthy for babies?
Yes, though it’s unlikely your baby will consume much as tamarind is primarily used as a flavor enhancer. That said, the fruit offers some fiber, protein, and fatty acids, as well as small amounts of nutrients that are critical for growing children, including calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, and iron. It also contains plenty of antioxidants and phytonutrients to power the immune system.
There are lots of nutritious ways to introduce tamarind to babies and toddlers—but candies are not one of them. Never give candy to your baby. Aside from containing lots of added sugar, candy is a common cause of choking in children there have been reports of lead contamination in tamarind candies.1 2 3
★Tip: Whole tamarind pods have a phenomenal shelf life. They last up to 3 months in the refrigerator and even years in the freezer.
Is tamarind a common choking hazard for babies?
Yes. The hard, edible seeds inside tamarind pods are a potential choking hazard and to a lesser degree, the pulp, if your baby manages to get a large glob in their mouth at one time. To reduce the risk, incorporate smooth tamarind pulp into your sauces and dishes, offer smears of the pulp on your finger as a way to entice your baby to try this delicious and bright flavor, and if you are working with whole tamarind pods, be careful to remove all of the hidden seeds and skins.
Is tamarind a common allergen?
No. However, tamarind is a member of the legume family, so individuals who are allergic to peanut, soy, or other legumes may be sensitive to the fruit.4 The vast majority of kids with peanut allergy can safely consume other legumes, so you don’t have to avoid legumes such as tamarind due to a pre-existing peanut allergy.5 As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity of tamarind for the first couple of servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
How do you prepare tamarind for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline. The preparation suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or expert in pediatric feeding and eating. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 12 months old: Incorporate tamarind pulp into glazes for meats and fish, marinades, or sauces for chicken drumsticks, pork ribs, fish cakes, and steak strips. Just be sure to omit any honey (or other sweeteners) or soy (or other salt seasonings) from the recipe. For plant-based babies, use your homemade tamarind sauce to flavor mashed vegetables or rice. Because tamarind is quite flavorful, this can be an excellent addition to any “long hard sticks” of food (think rib bone for example) which you offer your baby to build oral motor skills because it encourages sucking, munching, and exploration in the mouth. Offering your baby small tastes of tamarind off of your finger (hold your finger out to your baby and wait for them to lean forward with an open mouth to accept it) can be one way to get a baby used to this flavor.
12 to 18 months old: Time to dip! Try your hand at making tamarind sauce for chicken fingers or fish sticks, a carrot tamarind spread for toasted bread or rice crackers, or tamarind yogurt dip for steamed vegetable crudites.
18 to 24 months old: Continue mixing tamarind pulp into dips, glazes, marinades, and sauces to acclimate your child to sour flavor. After your toddler’s second birthday, try serving Jamaican tamarind balls to introduce the delicious combination of sweet-and-sour flavor. At this age using words like, “sour” and “tart” when your toddler is eating tamarind can help your them build their food vocabulary. This is also a great age to begin showing your toddler how to find and pick out the large seeds from a tamarind pod to set them aside or hand them to you.
For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.
Recipe: Sweet & Sour Mango Spears
- 1 mango
- 1 lime
- 1/4 teaspoon tamarind paste or pulp
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
- Peel the mango. Cut the flesh into spears. Place in a mixing bowl.
- Slice the lime in half and squeeze the juice into a small bowl.
- Add the tamarind paste or pulp to the lime juice. Stir to combine, then pour the marinade over the mango spears. Use your hands to coat the spears in the marinade.
- Spread the coconut flakes on a plate. Roll each mango spear in the coconut flakes.
- Serve the mango spears on a plate for your child to pick up independently, or hand a spear in the air for easier grabbing. Eat alongside your child to show how it’s done!
Think of tamarind as a substitute for citrus: its tanginess can balance and enhance a food’s natural flavor. Try using tamarind in marinades for oily fish, lamb, spare ribs, and other rich meats (the acidity tenderizes the protein in addition to balancing the hearty fats) or as a seasoning for naturally sweet foods like almond, beet, cashew, carrot, coconut, onion, pumpkin, rutabagas, or squash.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD
K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)
R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention: Lead in Foods, Cosmetics, and Medicine. Retrieved September 17, 2020
- Medlin, J. (2004). Lead: Sweet Candy, Bitter Poison. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112(14), A803. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.112-a803a. Retrieved September 17, 2020
- Lynch, R. A. (2000). Lead-Contaminated Imported Tamarind Candy and Children’s Blood Lead Levels. Public Health Reports, 115(6), 537–543. DOI:10.1093/phr/115.6.537. Retrieved September 17, 2020
- Anaphylaxis Campaign. (2019). Legumes (Including Pulses). Retrieved September 17, 2020
- Sicherer SH. Clinical implications of cross-reactive food allergens. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2001 Dec;108(6):881-90. doi: 10.1067/mai.2001.118515. PMID: 11742262.