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The tamarind is native to East Africa, but its virtues as a shade tree and food ingredient have helped it spread throughout the world's tropical regions. The fruit grows in the shape of long, leathery pods that resemble beans. As they ripen and mature, the outer skin becomes a hard, brittle shell and the pulp inside dries to a brown, sticky pulp. This is pressed into blocks for commercial sale, with or without the hard seeds. The tangy fruit is used like lemon or lime juice to add a refreshingly acidic accent to foods and sauces.
Tamarind paste is the pulp that surrounds the seeds of the tamarind pod. Some uses for the pulp include making tamarind drinks such as agua de tamarindo or it is used in Thai cooking for making a traditional sour soup.