You’ve set your heart on cooking up a storm in the kitchen only to find that one of your key ingredients is missing from your cupboard…argh! Either that or your local store hasn’t got what you want in stock, so now you’re in a fix and need a tamarind paste substitute quick.
Whether you’re rustling up Pad Thai or Pindi Chole, tamarind paste is an essential ingredient. Luckily, you have a few alternatives available to you. First, let’s take a look at what we’re trying to substitute. (Scroll down to the alternatives if you’re in a hurry)
What is tamarind, anyway?
Tamarind is a deep brown fruit that is more tart than sweet. The sticky foodstuff is found on the tamarind tree and grows inside pods rather than directly from the tree itself. Think extra large beans, not apples, and you’ll have a better understanding of what the tamarind fruit looks like. (1)
The taste of tamarind is slightly reminiscent of dates, but this fruit is nowhere near as sweet. Tamarind’s sourness lends itself well to savory dishes, but it can be found in recipes for both main courses and desserts.
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Okay, so what about the paste?
The fruit itself is taken from the pod structure and separated from the seeds found within it before being processed into a paste ready for cooking. The processing is minimal, as the fruit is already rather pulpy and paste-like in consistency anyway. (2)
However, it can be quite a chore to do it yourself (not to mention messy), which is why jars of tamarind paste are more commonly found in stores rather than the fruit pods themselves.
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Which cuisines use tamarind paste?
Often referred to as “the Indian date”, tamarind trees are extremely common throughout Asia, but they can also be found in certain parts of Mexico as well. Although predominantly used in Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes, tamarind is far from restricted to just Asian cooking. (3)
Many Middle Eastern recipes call for the dark brown pulp too, and Mexicans also make good use of their homegrown fruit in salsas, sauces, and even drinks such as Agua de Tamarindo.
Perhaps most surprising of all, however, is the love of tamarind in the UK. The famous fermented dark brown British liquid condiment, Worcestershire Sauce, is made with tamarind extract…although many consumers probably wouldn’t know it!
Be warned, though, fellow vegans, Worcestershire Sauce not only contains tamarind, it also has anchovies on its ingredient list too. Boo!
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Got it, so what are the best substitutes for tamarind paste?
Now that we know what it is and have a better understanding of its flavor, we can start compiling a list of great alternatives to tamarind paste. Naturally, in order to substitute tamarind paste effectively, we’ll have to match the slightly sweet, yet tangy and tart taste sensations that the fruit provides.
Thankfully, there are a few alternatives that fit the bill nicely!
By far the best match for tamarind paste is pomegranate molasses.
This thick, syrupy liquid is nothing more than heavily reduced pomegranate juice, but it matches the taste and texture profile of tamarind paste pretty well.
Although pomegranate molasses is a little thinner than tamarind paste, it does bring the all important moisture to a dish that a powdered substitute would lack.
Pomegranate molasses is also really easy to switch, as you’ll use the same amount as you would tamarind paste in your recipe. So one tsp of tamarind paste equals one tsp of pomegranate molasses – couldn’t be simpler.
There is, however, a problem that many of you are probably screaming at your screens, and that’s that you don’t have any pomegranate molasses in the house either! Fear not, tamarind substitute seekers, there are other options available.
A good quality citrus marmalade is another excellent replacement for tamarind paste, but it’s important that you only use one that’s at the higher end of the market.
Cheaper marmalades are commonly packed with non-vegan sugar and very little real fruit, so go for the best you can find.
The texture of a citrus marmalade is a great match for tamarind paste, so your recipe will not fall short in this regard. The taste can be a little different, though.
While it will still be yummy, nothing comes close to tamarind for depth of flavor, which is why it is so commonly used in the first place. As before, equal measure substitution will work fine.
Like citrus marmalade, the key thing to remember if you are going to use mango chutney instead of tamarind paste, is the quality. Again, lower quality products will often be too sweet and lack the desired tartness that a good substitute will have.
If using mango chutney, another consideration will be the consistency. Many good quality mango chutney recipes will have rather large pieces of fruit in them, which you may not want in your finished dish. If this is the case, consider whizzing it up in a food processor prior to adding to your dish. One for one measures are fine here too.
As tamarind paste is commonly used as a souring agent in many dishes, it makes sense that lime juice could prove to be a worthy substitute. The problem with lime juice is that it does lack the slight sweetness you get with tamarind, and it’s why the green fruit falls to behind the other alternatives on our list.
Certain dishes will respond better to lime juice than others. Thai cuisine, for example, relies on the sweetness as much as it does the sour notes, so you may need to add a little something to get the balance right.
If you feel as though your recipe needs the sweetness, an equal amount of light brown sugar to lime juice can work, and it has the added bonus of slightly thickening the lime juice as well.
Indian dishes are easier to deal with, as the sweetness isn’t quite so prevalent. This allows you to use straight lime juice, but be certain to use freshly squeezed stuff rather than that bottle at the back of your store cupboard!
As with the other substitutes, lime juice (or your lime juice/sugar mix) can be used in equal measure to tamarind paste.
Amchur (amchoor) powder
Made from unripened green mangoes, amchur (sometimes spelt amchoor) powder brings the sourness you need from a good tamarind paste substitute, but it’s probably not something you’ll have to hand in the kitchen and it’s not that easy to find on store shelves either, although you can easily buy it online.
Another downside to using amchur powder as a replacement for tamarind paste is that you’ll have to mix it before use. While this isn’t a major inconvenience, it’s not as easy as simply spooning in the required amount like many of our other alternatives.
Mix equal parts water and amchur powder before adding to your dish.
The final tamarind paste substitute on our list is vinegar. I’m not overly keen on this option, but it does have the advantage of being a store cupboard staple, so in it goes.
If at all possible, try and use a milder vinegar such as apple cider, white wine, or rice rather than one of the harsher blends. Mix equal parts vinegar with sugar, then add to your dish in the same quantity as the tamarind paste you are replacing.
Accept no substitute, where to buy tamarind paste
Obviously, the best ingredient is the correct one, so you may be wondering where to buy tamarind paste.
As the paste is so widely used in Asian cuisine, a good bet would be your local Asian convenience store…if you have one. Alternatively, many of the larger chain supermarkets now stock tamarind paste too, so you may be able to track it down in the “world foods” aisle.
If that doesn’t yield any results, or if like me you are just plain lazy at times, you can always buy tamarind paste online.
That’s it, we’re done! If you have any other alternatives that you think we should know about, please drop a comment below.
About The Author:
Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.
Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!
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- PRI | Tamarind Tree | https://www.permaculturenews.org/2009/02/20/tamarind-tree/
- Kellie Evans | Making Tamarind Paste | https://www.saveur.com/article/techniques/how-to-make-tamarind-paste/
- Jen Wheeler | How to Cook with Tamarind | https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/200245/how-to-cook-with-tamarind/