It is not surprising that people ask for a tamarind paste substitute, as this ingredient is the Holy Grail for fans of Thai-based recipes. You can also spot this paste in some Mexican and Indian cuisines.
Tamarind paste is derived from the fruit tamarind, which is a small pod with a sour flavor and sticky texture. This fruit is commonly found in many Asian countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines. You can also spot variants of it in areas like Mexico.
You eat this fruit by removing the seeds from the pods. These pods have a dry texture, so it is not necessary to skin them. Instead, just crack them open until the seeds come out. I have to warn you that the seed is very sour. The first time I tasted it, the sourness shriveled my face.
Although eating the fruit is not harmful, you should not consume it raw, as it is extremely sour.
Tamarind paste is just a derivate of the fruit, which has been made into a semi-fluid state so that you can easily use it in your cooking. There's no special ingredient to it. Usually, this paste comes in a tube or a container and has a very decent lifespan.
The sour taste of tamarind paste doesn't vary too much, so I always use sweeteners (e.g. sugar and honey) when I use it in my dishes. The sweeteners will counteract the sourness, which gives balance to the overall flavor of the food.
You can generally buy commercial tamarind pastes in any of the Asian and Chinese stores, and some Indian culinary stores will have it too. Of course, there is always the option to purchase it online.
If you can't find tamarind paste, there are still some good alternatives to it that you can find, as this ingredient is not the only agent that can provide the sour flavour that many dishes require. Check out the next section for the best tamarind paste alternatives.
For me, pomegranate molasses is the best alternative to tamarind paste. It has a thick and rich texture. The sweetness is still present, but its sourness overpowers it. Many people use pomegranate molasses to provide their dishes with the acidity required.
Technically, pomegranate molasses is a derivate of pomegranate juice. The latter has been processed until it possesses a sticky and palpable texture. This ingredient has a similar effect as tamarind paste, and there is a consistency in its flavor that is pretty essential for any souring element.
Moreover, pomegranate molasses can provide moisture to any cuisine. Therefore, it prevents food from developing a dry, dull texture. It is also notable that this ingredient can give your dish with the same dark coloration that occurs when you use tamarind paste.
If you are going to use pomegranate molasses, you just apply the same amount as you do when you use tamarind paste. Of course, the amount used will depend on the recipe that you are creating.
Citrus juice is an obvious tamarind paste alternative, as lime and lemon juices are both good souring ingredients. In many Western cuisines, citrus juice is popular because it provides tartness and acidity. If you compare tamarind paste and citrus juice, the latter is more sour. In contrast, there is a hint of sweetness in tamarind paste.
But despite all this, it is undeniable that citrus juice is a good replacement for tamarind paste. Many Indian chefs will immediately use this ingredient if they don't have any tamarind paste in their pantries. You will certainly need the blend of sweetness and sourness if you want to explore Thai cuisine. If you don't want to use too much sugar, then citric juice or a tart juice is your best choice.
Use citrus juice in the same that you would tamarind. Just apply the amount that is required for the dish. If you want to add sugar, divide it with the citrus juice equally. I am sure that you will still get the same effect as tamarind paste.
Another route you could take is mango powder. This ingredient is a by-product of dried unripe mangoes that are finely powdered.
Tamarind paste is popular in the southern region of India, but mango powder is a favorite of many folks in Northern India. The sourness and acidity of this ingredient is similar to tamarind paste.
These souring ingredients only differ in their dryness. Specifically, mango powder has a drier texture than its counterpart because it is a powder rather than a liquid paste.
Of course, you can still make a paste out of mango powder by adding water to it. I tried this once for my Hot and Sour Thai Soup and found the taste to be as satisfying as tamarind paste.
Perhaps the easiest substitute for a tamarind paste is vinegar. This is a common condiment that you can get from any food market. It provides any dish, such as Pad Thai Chicken, with tartness. The sourness of vinegar is second to none. In fact, some say vinegar is even sourer than any tamarind paste!
If a particular recipe requires one teaspoon of tamarind paste, just replace it with one teaspoon of vinegar. The two ingredients should have an equal application in any dish. Otherwise, the food will be too sour.
If you can't still find any of the ingredients I have mentioned, you can try the fruit Kokum. However, as this fruit is just native to India and its nearby peripheries, you will have trouble finding it. This ingredient has rare cooking applications and is even found in many Westernised Indian and Thai restaurants.
You can use kokum by submerging it into water. After several minutes, you can add it to your dish. But before you do this, make sure that you have already removed its seeds.
Kachri is another powder that you can use as a souring ingredient. It is a local seasoning found in many parts of India. Specifically, this fruit is related to cucumber. When you dry and powder it, kachri can provide a tart and sour taste.
These are the best options for a tamarind paste substitute. Each of them can provide a sour note to any dish and also enhance the flavor of a cuisine by giving it a flavor that your tongue can't resist.
Of course, I still recommend that you should use tamarind paste when it is available. After all, it has special, unique characteristics that remove the blandness of any dish. But if this paste is not present, then you can try all of the options I have listed here.
Did you learn from this article? If you have any questions, comments, and suggestions, feel free to ask me. I will be waiting!