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The Madras Thorn pod’s exterior resembles that of tamarind, but it easily peels away like the thin skin of a green bean. The edible flesh may then be separated from the seeds and eaten out-of-hand or prepared in sweet and savory dishes. The Madras Thorn is a spiny tree that grows up to 20 meters tall. It has an irregular spreading nature making it ideal for a perimeter hedge or living fence. The curvy and spiraled pods are greenish-brown to red or pinkish and 10-15 cm long x 1-2 cm wide. They are thin and flattened with approximately 10 seeds per pod. The pink, edible pulp of Madras Thorn is both sweet and savory, with flavors of chestnut and honey. It is the consistency of sticky popcorn, and mildly sour with a cleansing astringent quality on the palate. Fresh Madras Thorn is highly perishable, and the pinkish-white pulp will quickly oxidize once peeled. At room temperature, the fruits keep for three to four days.
The fresh pulp of Madras Thorn is available year-round with peak harvest in the summer.
Madras Thorn is also known as Manila tamarind and guamachil, or camachile. It is scientifically classified as Pithecellobium dulce which translates to 'sweet monkey-ear' in Latin. The pods are harvested for their sweet and sour pulp which is often made into a lemonade-like drink or eaten raw. The fruit is customarily sold on roadside stands throughout Mexico, Cuba and Thailand.
Madras Thorn is high in vitamin C, thiamine and cancer-fighting antioxidants.
A common Mexican beverage combines the pulp with orange juice, lemon juice, ginger, mint and coconut water. A paste made from the pulp, salt and chili powder may be added to sauces, soups, stews and stir fries. The black seeds are also edible and may be roasted, peeled and used in southern Indian curies. Madras Thorn compliments coconut, coconut water, lemon, orange, lime, pomegranate, sugar, ginger, mint, chili powder and cocoa.
In Eastern Nepal, Madras Thorn is used to treat fever, dysentery, and intestinal disorders. The Huastec Indians of Mexico used parts of the tree to manage toothaches, sore gums and mouth ulcers. Other traditional native remedies include using the fruit to treat bronchitis, diarrhea, hemorrhages, sores, liver problems and spleen issues.
The Madras Thorn is native to Mexico and other parts of Central America including Colombia and Venezuela. It has since been introduced to southern Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Hawaii, India and throughout southern Asia. Although classified as a drought resistant plant in Tropical and Subtropical Deserts, the Madras Thorn also thrives in moist forests and wet sands.