It is not so surprising for me if I see people asking for tamarind paste substitute. Specifically, folks who are a fan of Thai-based recipes, this particular ingredient are a holy grail to them. You could also spot this paste on some Mexican and Indian cuisines.
Tamarind paste is derived from the fruit tamarind. It is a small pod that possesses sour flavor and sticky texture. This fruit is commonly found in many Asian countries such as Thailand and Philippines. However, you could still spot variants of this fruit in areas like Mexico. After all, it is not endemic.
You can eat this fruit by removing the seeds from the pods. It is not necessary anymore to skin the pod, as it has a dry texture. Instead, you just have to crack it open until such time the seeds would come out. But I have to warn you that the entire seed is very sour. The first time I tasted it, the sourness just shriveled my face.
Although eating the fruit is not deleterious at all, I still recommend that you should not consume it raw, unless if your taste buds have strong endurance against extremely sour flavors.
A tamarind paste is just a derivate of the fruit. There's no special ingredient behind this paste. It was just made into a semi-fluid state so that you can easily use it for any cooking purposes. Usually, this paste comes in a tube or a container. It has a very decent lifespan which enables you to store it in your pantry confidently.
The taste of the tamarind paste doesn't vary too much with the fruit. It still has that sour flavor that could awaken your senses. This is the reason why I always use sweeteners (e.g. sugar and honey) when I used tamarind paste on my dish. The sweeteners will somehow counteract the sourness, which would give balance to the overall flavor of the food.
You can typically buy commercial tamarind pastes on any Asian and Chinese stores. But there is still a good chance that you can get this souring ingredient on Indian culinary stores. Of course, there is always an option of purchasing it online.
If you can't find a tamarind paste, there are still some good alternatives for it. This ingredient is not the only agent that can provide your dish with a sour nuance. Check the next section for tamarind paste alternatives.
For me, the pomegranate molasses is the best alternative for a tamarind paste. It has a thick and rich texture. The sweetness is still present, but its sourness is already overpowering it. Specifically, many use pomegranate molasses to provide their dish with the acidity that it needs.
Technically, the pomegranate molasses is a derivate of pomegranate juice. The latter has been processed until it will have a sticky and palpable texture. I can say that this ingredient has similar performance and effect as tamarind paste. It has a consistency in flavor which is pretty essential for any souring element.
Moreover, pomegranate molasses can provide moisture to any cuisine. Therefore, it prevents any food to have a dry and dull texture. Also, it is notable that this ingredient can induce your dish with dark coloration. This is a similar effect when you use a tamarind paste.
If you are going to use pomegranate molasses, you can just apply the same amount as you did when you used a tamarind paste. Of course, the amount depends on the recipe that you are creating.
Citrus juice is an obvious candidate for a tamarind paste alternative. Both the juices coming from lime and lemon fruit are good souring ingredients. In many Western cuisines, citrus juice is popular because it provides tartness and acidity. If you compare a tamarind paste and citrus juice, the latter is bluntly sour. Meanwhile, you can still taste a hint of sweetness to a tamarind paste.
But despite this, it is still undeniable that citrus juice is a good replacement for tamarind paste. Many Indian chefs will immediately take this ingredient if the tamarind paste is not available on their pantries. For those who want to explore Thai dishes, you will certainly need the blend of sweetness and sourness. If you don't want to use too much sugar, a citric or tart juice will become your best choice.
The use of a citrus juice is just the same as tamarind. Just apply the similar amount that is required by the dish. If you want to integrate sugar into the equation, you just have to divide it with the citrus juice equally. I am sure that you will still get the same effect as when you used a tamarind paste.
Another route that you could take is the use of mango powder. Particularly, this ingredient is a byproduct of dried unripe mangoes. The latter has been powdered until such they become fine.
Geographically speaking, tamarind paste is popular in the Southern Region of India.
However, mango powder is a favorite of many Northern Indian folks. The sourness and acidity of this ingredient are almost similar to a tamarind paste.
These souring ingredients only differ on their dryness. Specifically, mango powder has a drier texture than its counterpart. However, it should not be a surprise as this one is a powder, while the other one is made out the liquid paste.
Of course, you can still make a paste out of a mango powder by adding water to it. I tried this once on my Hot and Sour Thai Soup. The taste is still satisfying as when I used a tamarind paste.
Perhaps, the easiest substitute for a tamarind paste is vinegar. This is a common condiment that you can access on any food market. It can still provide any dish with tartness, such as the Pad Thai Chicken. The sourness of vinegar is second to none. In fact, some vinegar is made to be sourer than any tamarind paste!
If a particular recipe requires one teaspoon of tamarind paste, just replace it with one teaspoon of vinegar. These two should have an equal application on any dish. Otherwise, you will get food that has too much sourness.
If you can't still find any of those ingredients that I have mentioned, you can try the fruit Kokum. However, you will have trouble on finding it since this fruit is just native to India and nearby peripheries. In fact, I can say that this ingredient has rare cooking applications, even in many Westernized Indian and Thai restaurants.
You can use a kokum by submerging it in water. After several minutes, you can already add it to your dish. But before you do this, make sure that you already have removed its seeds.
Another powder that you can use as a souring ingredient is the Kachri. It is a local seasoning on 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 you can have for a tamarind paste substitute. Each of these ingredients that can provide a sour note to any dish. Moreover, they can also enhance the flavor of a cuisine by giving it a palpable flavor that your tongue would never resist.
Of course, I would still recommend that you should use tamarind paste if it is available. After all, it has a special and unique characteristic that can remove the blandness of a cuisine. If this is not present, then you can try all the options that I listed here.
Did you learn from this article? If you have any questions, comments, and suggestions, just feel free to ask me. I will be waiting!