Who does not love sweet and savory dishes with tangy tamarind? It’s awesome to enjoy tangy soups and sweet chutneys or juices and carbonated drinks infused with tamarind.
What to do if you don’t have tamarind? What can you use in place of tamarind paste? This article examines the best substitutes for tamarind paste you can use and also a little about the flavor profile and culinary uses of tamarind.
What is tamarind?
The tamarind tree is a leguminous perennial plant scientifically known as Tamarindus indica. Indigenous to Africa, tamarind grown in tropical regions of India, Southeast Asia, West Indies, and others.
This plant and its fruits are also known in different names like imlee, imli, puli, tamarin, indica, tamarindus, tamarinier, or tintiri.
Tamarind fruit is a legume like a lentil, peas, or peanut. It’s an indehiscent legume, sometimes called a pod, about 3 to 6 inches long, with a hard, brown shell. A ripened pod contains seeds encased in paste-like juicy pulp with thin fiber strands. The tamarind pulp is high in tartaric acid and rich in several essential vitamins and nutrients.
What Is Tamarind Paste?
Usually, the tamarind you buy is a softened paste-like bar that is easy to add to recipes. This paste is made from the pulp extracted from the tamarind pod. Once extracted from the pod, the sticky pulp is segregated from seeds. The raw pulp is then steeped in hot water for half an hour and drained through a sieve to get rid of fibrous threads. The juicy pulp left over after sieving is dehydrated into a paste-like consistency and that is called tamarind paste.
To make the fresh tamarind paste, you can extract the juicy pulp from ripened tamarind pods by hand and use them directly in your dish.
Note, always buy a genuine product for authentic tamarind taste and no alternative to tamarind paste can work like it.
What does tamarind taste like?
The taste of tamarind ranges from sour to sweet to a tart to tangy flavor. Most people sense in them a strong sour and citrusy flavor.
Often, its taste fluctuates depending on the other ingredients mixed with it. For example, the sourness of tamarind diminishes when mixed with sugar. Also, fully mature and ripe tamarind fruits are both sour and sweet but a less ripe fruit has a sourer taste.
The flavor profile of tamarind is a lot similar to molasses, also has notes of smoke and caramel.
Its flavor is so unique that you won’t find a substitute for tamarind paste with the same flavor profile.
What is tamarind used for in cooking?
A distinct sweet and sour taste of tamarind wonderfully seasons complements and balances the flavor of many dishes. You can find tamarind used in a variety of ways in different cuisines across the world.
This legume is a staple of several Indian curries and dishes, especially fish curries and savories. In Thai cooking, it’s an important ingredient in savory dishes; classic pad Thai sauce is made with tamarind. Tamarind is very well utilized in a range of Mexican cuisines, as well as Latin, Vietnamese, and Caribbean cooking. The tangy taste of the famous Worcestershire sauce comes from tamarind.
The acidic qualities of tamarind work well as a meat tenderizer. Adding a little tamarind paste to marinades helps to soften thick cuts of beef before they are cooked.
What are the best substitutes for tamarind paste?
It’s hard to miss out on tamarind that renders your curries a fruity, tart flavor with a hint of sweetness. There may be times when you’ve run out of tamarind paste or syrups that you badly need for a dish you’re preparing. If you don’t have an Asian grocery nearby, it may be even difficult to source. Still, you can manage your dish with one of the suitable tamarind substitutes listed below.
1. Lime Or Lemon Juice
The simple stand-in ingredient for turmeric paste is lemon or lime juice mixed with sugar (preferably brown sugar). This mixture very well replicates the sweet and sour taste of tamarind. To your advantage, you might already have lime in your pantry, or easy to get it immediately. Lemon juice will also very well complement other ingredients in a recipe that calls for tamarind.
Tamarind contains tartaric acid but citrus fruit like lemon contains citric acid, both these acids are equally sour and tart.
One tablespoon of lemon juice is equivalent to 30 grams of turmeric paste.
2. Worcestershire sauce
Most varieties of Worcestershire sauce contain tamarind pulp as a key ingredient that renders its sweet-sour taste. However, you need to add a few additional ingredients to make the sauce taste like tamarind.
Making a blend of Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and lemon juice in equal amounts can recreate a taste similar to tamarind. Some chefs recommend adding an ounce of tomato paste to this mixture for a better taste. Always use fresh lime juice and tomato paste for a fuller flavor.
3. Pomegranate molasses
Pomegranate molasses is a thick dark syrup made from pomegranate juice. It has a mixture of sweet and sour tastes like tamarind, plus an astringent undertone. These molasses, often used in Middle East dishes, have a stronger acidic flavor than lime/lemon juice. As a substitute, use pomegranate molasses in equal quantity as tamarind paste.
4. Mango powder
Mango powder is a popular ingredient in Indian cooking for bringing in a tart and slightly sweet flavor in savory dishes. Usually, unripe and strongly sour varieties of mangoes are used for making mango powder. This special food delicacy is exclusively available in Indian grocery stores.
Use about 2 teaspoons of mango powder for every teaspoon of tamarind paste.
5. Rice vinegar
A combination of rice vinegar and brown sugar is a manageable replacement for tamarind. With this blend, you’ll get the sweet-sour flavor without using tamarind paste in your dish.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get rice vinegar everywhere unless you make it at home. Also, cheap quality rice vinegar can have a harsh flavor which may even overpower your dish.
6. Lemon juice and dried fruits
Lucky if you have dry fruits like dates, apricots, and prunes (dried plum) then it’s easy to make a homemade tamarind paste substitute. Take these three dried fruits in equal amounts and immerse them in a bowl of water with a tablespoon of lemon juice diluted in it. After 30 minutes, drain out the water from the bowl and blend the softened fruits into a paste-like consistency. Use this fruit and lemon juice blend in equal quantity as tamarind paste in your dishes.
7. Make your own tamarind paste
Some of the grocery stores do sell ripened tamarind pods. Get the fresh tamarind pods and extract the pulp by manually removing pod-shell, seeds, and fibrous threads. Soak the extracted pulp in warm water for 15 minutes and drain out the water and threads of fiber; dehydrate the pulp into a paste-like consistency. And you have the tamarind paste ready for use.
The bottom line
Tamarind paste is loved for its sweet-sour flavor that is a flavorful addition to several dishes, especially, in the Indian curries and Thai savories. If you don’t have tamarind available in your place, then use a good tamarind paste substitute like lime/lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, or Worcestershire sauce with or without sugar.