Popularly known as Awin, by the Yoruba people, Icheku by the Igbos, and Tsamiyar kurm by the Hausas in Nigeria, African velvet tamarind is the fruit of a native West African tree (dialium guineense) cultivated not just for its fruits but as a source of timber and fuel.
The tiny fruit has an orange coloured pulp which has a sweet and sour taste and a dry powdry texture, it is also a great source of nutrients for human food and animal feeds.
African velvet tamarind is a leguminous plant just like tamarind, dawadawa tree, flamboyant and groundnut, it produces a fruit botanically termed pod.
But compared to tamarind, it is sweeter, drier, powder-like and the shell is thicker.
The velvet from the fruit’s name Velvet Tamarind is so called because its shell really feels like velvet.
Each fruit typically has one hard, flat, round, brown seed, which somewhat resembles a watermelon seed, though some have two seeds. The seeds are shiny, coated with a thin layer of starch.
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It is a very popular fruit snack, particularly among children, who peel the black velvet case to reveal an orange pulp which is eaten raw, in West African countries like Ghana and Nigeria. It is also popular in Malaysia.
In some parts of western Ghana, the Waala people who call the tamarind ‘puhee’, use its pulp to make a drink called ‘puhikuong’ meaning ‘tamarind water’.
The African velvet tamarind is rich in minerals (magnesium, sodium, iron, potassium, vitamin A, copper and carotene), sugars and tartaric acid, citric acid, malic acid, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and Niacin.
This tasty fruit also has high levels of anti-oxidants. The fruit has even been purported to possess properties which can be used in the management of fever, diarrhoea and palpitations, and as an antibacterial treatment.
Also, the leaves of the velvet tamarind tree, bark and roots are also used by the natives to treat a variety of health problems.