If you like Indian, Southeast Asian, and even Middle Eastern cuisines, then you like tamarind.
This food is a staple across the world, but it can be relatively hard to find for those living in certain areas. You can use many substitutes to create a similar flavor and feel without the worry of damaging your dish.
Before we begin, though, keep in mind that tamarind paste isn’t the same across the board. Some brands come from India, while others come from South America, and this can cause the flavor to be very different.
No matter which one your recipe indicates, if you have no tamarind at home, it is time to find other options to substitute for tamarind pulp, sauce, paste and tamarind fruit.
What Is Tamarind?
This tree is originally from Africa and produces a sweet and sour pulp in a pod-like fruit. This pulp is what you may know as tamarind paste and what is part of many dishes around the world.
Many cuisines across the globe use this paste, including Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Latin American, and the Caribbean.
Traditionally, tamarind comes as either pulp or a paste, and all that you need to do to use it is add it directly to your dish as you cook. However, some recipes use tamarind to make candy, desserts, or beverages. If this is the case, you will need to make a syrup with sugar and water.
Tamarind tastes very sour unless the brand you get has added sugar. You will also notice a few smoky and caramel-like flavors, but these vary depending on the manufacturer. The texture is sticky and very thick.
What Can I Replace Tamarind With?
If you can’t find this ingredient or you need another option, try these tamarind substitutes that add great flavor to any of your recipes:
For Pad Thai, Curry, and Sinigang
#1. Lemon Juice + Sugar + Worcestershire Sauce
This mix of flavors may seem weird, but using lemon juice, sugar, and Worcestershire sauce together can create a similar flavor to tamarind. The lemon juice adds the sour taste, sugar for the sweet taste, and the Worcestershire sauce mixes tart, bitter, and umami.
You can mix three tablespoons of lemon juice, three tablespoons of Worcestershire, and two tablespoons of sugar.
If you want, add water to dilute everything. We suggest you use brown sugar, but in a pinch, white sugar works too. You can use this mixture when cooking pad thai, curries, sinigang, and more.
See More: Lemon Juice Substitutes
#2. Pomegranate Molasses
This choice is very common in Middle Eastern, African, and Mediterranean dishes. Pomegranate molasses is tart, sweet, and a bit bitter, but it can mimic tamarind when cooking things like pad thai, curries, stews, and sinigang.
You can find pomegranate molasses in most Middle Eastern food stores and some organic markets. Use the same amount as you would tamarind paste, but consider adding a bit of lemon juice for extra tartness.
Keep in mind too, that this choice is dark red or purple in color, so it may change the aspect of your meal.
#3. Lime Juice + Brown Sugar
Mixing lime juice and brown sugar can seem simple, but it works well if you need to imitate the sweetness and tartness of tamarind.
For every one tablespoon of tamarind paste, use one tablespoon of lime juice and ½ tablespoon of brown sugar. You should also consider adding a bit of water to dilute the sugar as well.
Use this mix of lime juice and brown sugar when you cook curries, pad thai, noodles, and sinigang. You can find limes and brown sugar in any grocery or convenience store, but in a pinch, you can use bottled lime juice and white sugar as well.
See More: Brown Sugar Alternatives
For Sambar, Chutney, and Sauces
This option is simply mango powder and it tastes similar to tamarind paste. Usually, this powder comes from dried unripe mangoes that are ground into a fine texture. You may not have seen amchoor before, and the best place to search for it would be an Indian food store.
To get the same amount of flavor, you will need to add at least double the amount of mango powder. Remember that this is a powder, so you need to compensate for the lack of liquid, either by adding water or fruit juice.
You can even mix one tablespoon of mango powder with one tablespoon of water to get a paste and use it in sambar, chutney, sauces, and more.
#5. Apple Cider Vinegar
While this isn’t an ideal option, when you don’t have any more ingredients handy, apple cider can be a good choice. Use about half the amount that the recipe indicates because this vinegar is more tart than tamarind paste.
You can find apple cider vinegar anywhere these days, but try your local supermarket or organic store.
Add apple cider vinegar when you prepare sambar, curry, chutney, and any other sauces. To counterbalance for the tartness, you can consider adding a pinch of brown sugar. Be careful not to overpower the rest of the ingredients though, and adjust for extra liquids.
See More: Apple Cider Vinegar Replacements
#6. Fruit Jam
This option may also seem unconventional, but the truth is, many fruit jams contain similar flavors to tamarind.
You can try to find tamarind jam, but some close flavors include mango, apricot, ginger, and orange. Since jam tends to be sweeter, you can add more citrus and salt when you use it.
Finding fruit jams shouldn’t be a problem, but to get more variety, try going to a specialty store or organic market. Use the same amount that the recipe indicates, but consider that this option is denser and can change the texture of your dish.
Yes, you can use lemon juice in place of tamarind, but to add the sweetness, you may want to also use some sugar. Mix lemon or lime juice with a bit of brown sugar to get a closer taste to tamarind.
Tamarind tastes a bit sweet and sour, but it can also be a bit nutty and caramel-like. Depending on the brand you get, some tamarind is sweeter while others are more bitter. Most recipes add sugar unless the tamarind paste already has some.
Some signs to look for include whether the tamarind smells bad or if it has become hard and dry. Tamarind should smell sweet and be very soft to touch. Another key thing to keep in mind is that dry tamarind shrinks, so if your fruit is smaller, it may be time to throw it out.
While not everyone uses tamarind daily, this ingredient is very important in some cuisines. Finding tamarind or tamarind paste can seem impossible and too expensive. Instead, you can try any of these 6 alternatives to create the flavors you are looking for.
Image by depositphotos.com/beats1