The tamarind tree produces fruit that look a lot like broad beans in their pods. Their flavor is potent and quite unique; a mix of sweet and sour in the same mouthful. Tamarind paste is often used in Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Pad Thai, crab curry or beef rendang – they all taste so much better with the addition of tamarind paste. The sour taste can help balance a hot, spicy curry just as well as it adds a hit of sweetness to a Thai stir fry.
Psst.. want the easy option? Simply buy Tamarind Paste from Amazon. It’s also available from your local Asian grocer and some supermarkets.
Tamarind paste can often be bought from the Asian section of your supermarket or from an Asian grocer. But what if you can’t get to the store or you don’t want to buy an entire jar for a recipe that calls for one teaspoon of the paste. It hardly seems worth it. You need a tamarind paste substitute that will allow you to cook a meal that’s as good as the original recipe.
8 alternatives to tamarind paste
1. The best option
Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl:
- 2 Tbsp water
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
Use fresh lemon juice instead of the bottled type as it has better flavor. You can replace the lemon juice with lime or apple cider vinegar if needed.
2. Pomegranate molasses
This option is probably the second best choice for matching the flavor. Pomegranate molasses is a thick, dark syrup that’s made from reducing pomegranate juice. It provides a combination of sweet and sour along with an astringent undertone making it a good option for cooking both Indian and Asian cuisine.
Use this molasses in equal quantities as tamarind paste.
3. Fruit combination
Combining equal parts of chopped prunes, dates, apricots and lemon juice then adding to a small bowl of water is your first option. Cover the bowl and allow the fruit to soften for 20-30 minutes before straining out the water. Finally, blend the fruit and use in equal quantities as tamarind paste.
The texture of the fruit is similar to tamarind; however you don’t quite achieve the same burst of tart that you get from the original ingredient.
Note: Raisins and lemon juice can also be used if you don’t have any prunes, dates and apricots.
4. Lime juice and brown sugar
This will be an appealing option for many as the ingredients are readily available. As you’ve probably guessed, lime juice provides a hit of tart taste whilst the sugar provides some sweet balance.
You won’t get the same flavor that tamarind paste offers but in many dishes most wouldn’t even notice the difference.
Use this lime and brown sugar in equal quantities. If the recipe calls for 1 Tbsp of tamarind paste then use equal quantities of this backup mixture.
Use the lime and brown sugar in equal quantities as the tamarind paste.
5. Rice vinegar or white wine
If you have rice vinegar or white wine sitting around at home then combine equal parts of this with brown sugar. You’ll achieve that combination of sour and sweet that’ll allow you to finish your recipe without the tamarind paste.
Try to avoid using those cheap bottles of white vinegar as they have a harsh flavor that will easily overwhelm the food you’re cooking.
Use this vinegar or white wine in equal quantities as tamarind paste.
Whilst not a close match in flavor, a good quality citrusy marmalade can be used in equal portions in the dish. Marmalade has those astringent, bitter and sweet flavors that’ll help provide depth of flavor to your next meal.
Use marmalade in equal quantities as tamarind paste.
7. Amchur powder
Amchur powder is the product of unripe mangoes and it is a popular ingredient in the North of India. It provides a combination of fruity, acidic and sour flavors, similar to tamarind. Amchur is aromatic and tends to work best as a tamarind paste substitute in Indian cooking.
To achieve a paste consistency, mix equal parts of water and powder before using in your cooking. Amchur paste should be used in equal quantities to tamarind paste.
8. Tamarind pulp
If you have a local store that sells tamarind pulp then you can create your own authentic paste. Try to get your hands on the pulp without seeds; if not, you’ll need to remove the seeds and separate the pulp as you make the paste.
Combine 2 Tbsp pulp with a half cup of warm water and let the pulp soak until soft. Then simply rub the pulp through your hands to create a paste. If your pulp has seeds, remove them at this stage. Once the pulp looks more like paste, strain out the water.
Frequently asked questions
Are tamarind paste and concentrate the same thing?
Tamarind pasta and concentrate have similar flavors but the concentrate has a less fruity undertone and a more intense color. In general, using a lesser amount of the concentrate will allow you to substitute concentrate for paste.
What is the ideal tamarind paste substitute in Pad Thai or Sambar?
The best substitute for tamarind paste in Pad Thai 2 Tbsp water, 3 Tbsp lemon juice, ½ cup tomato paste, 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, 2 Tbsp brown sugar. Any paste you don’t use can be stored in the in the fridge for up to a week.
Finding an exact substitute for tamarind paste is a challenge; the paste has a unique flavor that’s both sweet and tart at the same time. When you’re cooking Asian or Indian cuisine, this ingredient is usually a mix of many other ingredients so you can often get away with using an alternative. Only the most experienced taste testers would be able to catch you out.
The above eight alternative options are mostly common ingredients that you may already have in the kitchen. Whipping up a “quasi tamarind paste” should be quick and easy.
The best option, if possible, is to simply buy Tamarind Paste from Amazon. It’s also available from your local Asian grocer for a more authentic taste. Many local supermarkets will also stock this product so see what you can find.
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