The secret to delicious pad Thais, curries, chutneys, agua fresca, tangy stir-fries, sweet or sour juices or carbonated drinks are achieved with the wonders done by the tamarind paste. This ingredient is derived from the tamarind fruit which grows from the evergreen tree called the tamarind. The tamarind tree is commonly grown in the tropical areas of the world.
The tamarind fruit, also known as the Indian date, is brown and its curved pods grow from 3 to 8 inches long. It’s a culinary staple in India, Thailand, Mexico and the Caribbean. The mature pods are filled with edible brown to a reddish-brown acidic pulp, and it becomes brittle and easily breakable when it ripens. A ripe pod may have 1 to 12 full, flat, and glossy seeds embedded in the brown pulp. You can actually taste the flesh, and it will give you a pleasing combination of sweet and sour or tart flavor – this is because of its natural sugar and acid. Basically, the pulp is removed from the pods, separated from its seeds, and it is crushed to make tamarind paste. The tamarind pulp is thick and sticky, resembling molasses.
In Thailand and India, it is usually used for cooking savory dishes, and an appetizing pucker to barbecue sauces, marinades, and refreshing beverages. On the other hand, the tamarind paste is used for making desserts and candies. Tamarind paste is also used in Mexican, Latin, Vietnamese, and Caribbean cuisines. The natural sourness you can get from the tamarind paste gives you the right balance of hot and spicy in curries. It also offers hints of its sweetness in Thai stir-fries.
And did you know why your Worcestershire sauce is tangy? That’s definitely because of tamarind paste as the Worcestershire sauce’s key ingredient.
There are pre-made tamarind pastes that you can buy in the grocery stores, especially in the Asian section. Or, you can also make your own tamarind paste at home. If both options are unavailable, or if you just don’t want to spend for a jar when you only need a few teaspoons of this ingredient, you can try exploring other substitutes that will still remain as good as the original recipe.
Table of Contents
best substitutes for tamarind paste
1. Tamarind pulp for homemade tamarind paste.
Before jumping to other tamarind substitutes, you might want to make your own tamarind paste so that your dish will have the authentic flavor of tamarind. Here’s what you’ll need:
1 cup of warm water
¼ cup of seedless tamarind pulp
Tools you’ll need:
Stainless steel pot (Avoid using reactive metal pots made from cast iron and aluminium.)
- Shred or tear your tamarind pulp into small chunks and put it in your mixing bowl
- Combine warm water and the seedless tamarind pulp in the bowl. Soak the pulp in the water until it softens and cool enough to handle.
- Rub or massage the pulp using your hand until the pulp is removed from its fibers.
- Strain the tamarind through a coarse sieve to separate the fibers from the liquid.
- Place the tamarind liquid in a stainless steel pot then stir it continuously until us starts to boil.
- Keep your tamarind paste in a mason jar and store it in the refrigerator.
- And if you are not going to use it yet, you can preserve or seal your jar of tamarind by doing the traditional canning process of sealing.
You can store your freshly prepared tamarind paste for a few days in refrigerated conditions. Making your own tamarind paste is the best way to acquire the original flavors that you want your dish to taste like.
And if you happen to find a pack of tamarind pulp at your local store, then that will be easier for you so you won’t have to remove the veins of the tamarind fruit and just remove the seeds.
2. Pomegranate molasses
Pomegranate molasses, a common ingredient in the Middle Eastern areas, is considered as the second-best substitute for tamarind paste because of its sweetness and sourness. It is only made from reduced pomegranate juice at a point it reached a ruby-red syrupy form.
Pomegranate molasses moisten the dish and give a darker color. Its syrup is described as sweet, tangy, and flavorful which makes it a beautiful glaze for salad dressings, and a tamarind substitute for Indian and Asian vegetable and meat dishes. And for iced beverages and other drinks, it adds flavor with less sweetness.
Use an equal amount of tamarind paste required from the original recipe to pomegranate molasses.
You can simply make pomegranate molasses at the comfort of your home with just 3 ingredients: pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon juice. Just cook it under medium-low heat for more than an hour until you achieve a thick consistency of a thick syrup.
3. Citrus juice
If you need the tartness from the tamarind paste, lemon and lime juices are citrus sources that are most common and readily available souring agents for Western dishes. All you have to do is just squeeze out the juice and add it to your cooking.
In fact, some cooks use lemon juice instead of tamarind paste when they don’t have it. However, these citrus juices can’t provide the sweetness you can get from tamarind paste. So, you may consider adding some sugar to sweeten your dish a little bit.
4. Rice vinegar or white wine
Well, maybe you dad or grandfather has this excellent white wine that he’s been hiding in his liquor cabinet! You might want to ask his permission to use it and cook him some delicious dish in return. Or, if you just happen to white wine or rice vinegar, that can be your tamarind paste substitute.
With either of the two, plus an equal amount of brown sugar, the combination of these two ingredients will give you a sweet and sour taste.
Note that may need to refrain from using cheap bottles of white vinegar. It turns out that the lower the price, the harsher its flavor. This characteristic might overpower the taste of your dish.
Use an equal amount of tamarind paste required from the original recipe to white wine or rice vinegar.
5. Combined fruits: prunes, apricots, dates, and lemon juice
If you feel a little more adventurous, blending some combination of a few fruits can work as a substitute for tamarind paste.
Get equal parts of prunes, apricots, dates, and mix it with lemon juice and a little water. Allow the fruits to soften before straining the water out. Then, you will need to blend the softened fruits until it forms a paste.
And also, whether you don’t have these fruits, or you think it’s not practical to have this expensive combination, you can opt for just blended raisins and lemon juice.
You may achieve a tamarind paste-like texture with these blended fruits but expect you won’t get the same punch of tartness from the primary ingredient.
6. Mango powder
Here’s another pinch: mango powder. This product is produced from dried and powdered unripe mango. Mango powder is a referred souring agent in the northern part of India under the name . This ingredient gives a fruity and tarty to a dish, similar to the characteristic of the tamarind paste.
However, mango powder is dry. So, you have to make mango paste out of this that is similar to tamarind paste. An equal amount of water and mango powder will do to create a mango paste.
Use an equal amount of tamarind paste required from the original recipe to mango powder paste. Yes, use the paste form of this.
Some may think that marmalade is only used as a sandwich spread. But it doesn’t end there. It also serves as a garnish for poultry, meat, and vegetable dishes, and the main ingredient in some baked goods and desserts.
Marmalades are made from preserved citrus fruit juice and peels that are boiled in water and sugar.
This citrusy marmalade may not taste close to the tamarind paste, but it can still give an astringent and sweet flavor to your dish.
Use marmalade in equal amounts as tamarind paste.
Just remember, if you can’t find tamarind paste at the grocery store, you can simply make your own at home.
In such circumstances, it makes it impossible for you to prepare a homemade tamarind paste, go ahead and try the ingredients mentioned above.
Do some little experimenting with these ideas and see which of these alternatives your taste buds favors.
We hope this post helps.