What is Tamarind Paste: Uses and Substitutes
If you are a fan of Pad Thai, Gado-Gado, or any other South and Southeast Asian cuisine, you may already be familiar with tamarind paste. This sour paste has a very complex flavor profile. It has hints of caramel and notes of smoke. Its sour taste is not vinegary; it is a lot closer to citrus fruits. This can impart a very different flavor to your dish. Here’s everything you need to know about this ingredient, including finding a suitable tamarind paste substitute.
All About Tamarinds
A tamarind is a large tree that can grow up to 60 feet tall. It produces an elongated fruit called a pod. Inside the fruit is a fleshy pulp that gives the tamarind its sour taste. The pulp of an unripe tamarind has a light green color while ripe ones have a dark brown color. The unripe ones are very sour whereas ripe tamarinds have a distinct sweetness to them.
Tamarind paste comes from the pulp of tamarinds. The pulp is softened by soaking in water before getting pressed through a sieve.
Because tamarind paste uses the pulp of the fruit, it is safe say that tamarind paste nutrition is the same as that of raw tamarind. It contains fat-soluble vitamins with the exception of vitamin D. It also contains the whole range of the B vitamins and vitamin C. The fruit also contains calcium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and magnesium. There is zinc, iron, selenium, and copper, too.
Tamarind Pastes, Concentrates, and Sauces
If you look at your favorite Asian grocery store, you may find at least three varieties of tamarind products. There is tamarind paste, tamarind concentrate, and tamarind sauce. All three products contain the pulp of the fruit. It is only a matter of which product has a thicker consistency.
The main difference in tamarind concentrate vs paste is that the latter comes as a thick block of tamarind. The concentrate comes as a thick dark paste. Most homemade tamarind pastes are concentrates because they have a paste-like consistency. Producers of authentic Asian and Indian tamarind pastes always make sure that their products are in block form. It is solid, yet pliable enough.
A tamarind sauce is often the result of diluting a tamarind concentrate in water with a ratio or 1:2. You can also make a sauce out of tamarind paste in block form. The only difference here is that you must soak the block of tamarind paste in water for about 15 minutes to soften it up.
Using Tamarind Paste
One has to keep in mind that tamarind paste is sour, with a hint of citrus sweetness to it. As such, it is perfect for dishes that require some form of souring. In many cases, sugar is added to the recipe to help balance the flavors.
You can use tamarind paste or tamarind sauce in the making of chutneys, dips, and marinades. Its acidic nature can help tenderize meats. The classic Pad Thai always uses tamarind paste. The Indonesian Gado-Gado uses a thicker version of tamarind paste known as Asam Jawa. Curries, soups, sauces, and noodle recipes will have a different kind of flavor if you use tamarind paste.
Substitutes for Tamarind Paste
While this product can bring a different flavor profile to your dish, it may not be easy to get one from your favorite grocery store. Most Asian grocery stores carry them. If one is not available in your area, then you should look for a tamarind paste substitute. There are substitutes that can somehow mimic the taste of tamarind paste.
Pomegranate molasses are the closest thing you can ever get to the flavor profile of tamarind paste. It is sour, yet with a hint of sweetness like tamarind. It also provides the same dark coloration in your dish.
If pomegranate molasses are not available, a good substitute will be lemon or lime juice. Bear in mind that citrus fruits are more sour than tamarind. As such, you may have to adjust the flavor of your dish by adding a pinch of sugar.
Citrus marmalade can be a better option since they have a certain sweetness to them. Mango chutney is also a good choice. Always remember to use the high-quality ones. You do not want mango chutney that is too sweet.
If you don’t have any of these, then your last resort will be vinegar. You can use apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar or white wine vinegar. Mix this with equal parts of sugar to create a tamarind-like flavor profile.
Using tamarind paste in your dishes can give it a very interesting sweet and sour profile. It is perfect for many Asian dishes, although you can always experiment with your favorite recipes.
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