Tamarind paste or tamarind concentrate is a commonly used Indian ingredient that gives a very unique tangy flavor to dishes. Find a list of ideas for the best substitute for tamarind paste, plus one DIY blend recipe that is quick and easy.
Tamarind paste substitutes can be tricky! Tamarind paste or tamarind shines in popular Indian dishes such as Tamarind Sauce or Imli Ki Chutney and Tamarind Rice.
Tamarind paste has a unique flavor that is both tart with a small hint of sweet notes.
The taste can be described as tangy, sour, and slightly fruity with a hint of sweetness. It provides a depth of flavor that is hard to replace.
I wanted to provide some perspective from an Indian cook who has used tamarind quite often.
Particularly, I’d like to note the types of recipes in which different tamarind substitutes can be used in a pinch.
I think the principles applied here can be applied to other cuisines as tamarind is popular in Indian, Malaysian, Thai, and Latin American cooking.
I always say there is no perfect substitute for any ingredient. The purpose of the article is to give some ideas and provide alternatives for when you are in a pinch and information on a few types you may not have come across.
Other substitute ideas for Indian cooking that may be handy in a pinch include Basmati Rice Substitute, Ghee Substitute, and Kashmiri Chili Powder Substitute.
Tamarind paste is a thick, dark brown, or reddish-brown paste made from the pulp of the tamarind fruit.
The tamarind fruit is a pod-like fruit from the tamarind tree that contains a sweet and sour pulp that is high in tartaric acid.
The pulp is pressed into a paste.
- It is often used as a souring agent in dishes.
- Adds depth and complexity to marinades, dals, sauces, and dips.
- Often sold in jars or blocks and can be found in many Indian grocery stores or specialty food markets.
- Can be stored in the refrigerator for several months
This post assumes you are looking for a tamarind paste with no added sugar
If you need to replace tamarind to make a chutney you can make Khajur Chutney or Date Chutney or Apple Butter Chutney which provides a similar balance of sweetness and sourness that tamarind chutney provides.
Considerations when picking a good tamarind paste substitute
- Acidity level – The quantity and punch you need tamarind to provide to the dish.
- Moisture – Tamarind paste provides some moisture, so adding dry ingredient/powder substitute may affect your recipe and the consistency of the dish
- Purpose – if you are making a tamarind chutney where it is a main ingredient versus making pad thai or sambar where it is a “supporting” ingredient the best substitute may vary.
The best substitutes for tamarind paste are lemon or lime juice, tamarind pulp or concentrate, pomegranate powder/juice/molasses, mango powder (amchur powder), dates + lemon juice, or date chutney.
The best substitutes for tamarind paste are lemon or lime juice, kokum, tamarind pulp or concentrate, pomegranate powder or molasses, mango powder (amchur powder), dates + lemon juice, or date chutney.
Below is an estimate of all the alternatives I explore further below.
The ranking is in order of acidity (least to most) based on estimates of pH level. (Can vary depending on ingredients, concentration, etc.)
- Date Chutney
- Dates + Lemon Juice
- Lemon juice
- Lime juice
- Rice vinegar
- Amchur (Mango powder)
- Balsamic vinegar
- Citric acid powder
- Worcestershire sauce
- Vinegar (white or apple cider)
While the complexity of flavor cannot be exactly replicated, these can be used in a pinch. I highly recommend sourcing tamarind paste online or at a local Indian or Asian grocery store.
Ideas For Alternatives
Numbers 1-8 are the best substitute ideas and 9-11 are a few other options to consider. The list below is intended to provide ideas for when you run out of tamarind paste or are looking for something more accessible quickly.
1. Lemon juice
Unless you are making a spice blend or a dish that should avoid added moisture, I think this is the easiest substitute.
It is what my mom would use as a replacement if we happen to run out of tamarind paste. We always keep a jar of fresh lemon juice handy!
It is hard to give an exact substitution ratio as lemons/limes can have varying acidic levels. Generally, ½ to 1 teaspoon lemon/lime juice: 1 teaspoon tamarind paste should work.
If you want to mimic the tiny hint of sweetness you could add a little brown sugar or sugar. But, it’s likely your dish will already be balanced and may not be required.
2. Lime Juice
This is an especially good substitute for Pad Thai.
3. Tamarind concentrate/tamarind pulp/dried tamarind
Ok, I hesitated to even include this but IN CASE you happen to have tamarind in alternative forms, they would of course be the best.
Maybe you can’t find tamarind in paste form, but you can find it in alternative forms near you.
4. Date Chutney (Or Dates + Lemon Juice)
Date chutney or mashed dates + lemon juice can make an excellent substitute.
I suggest date chutney itself because tamarind is very popularly used to make chutney in Indian cuisine.
Date chutney is also common so in case you have it in your fridge, it could make a good stand-in, in a pinch.
I’ve seen mango chutney mentioned as well. Date or apple butter chutney provides a closer flavor profile.
A 1:1 ratio of substitute can be used. Will vary depending on the exact chutney recipe used.
Kokum is a fruit native to India, commonly used in traditional Indian cuisine for its tangy, sweet and sour taste. The fruit is often dried and used as a spice. It is also known as mangosteen.
Tamarind is often used in dishes such as sambar and rasam, but kokum can be used as an alternative due to its similar flavor profile.
Additionally, kokum has the added benefit of being less acidic than tamarind, making it a gentler alternative for those with sensitive stomachs or acid reflux.
6. Anardana Powder / Pomegranate Powder / Pomegranate Molasses or Syrup
Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup made from pomegranate juice and sugar.
Anardana means pomegranate seeds. So, anardana powder is made from dried pomegranate seeds. It provides a similar tartness / sour flavor of dry mango powder.
It is found pretty often in Indian kitchens so you may have it on hand if you cook Indian food regularly.
1:1 Ratio of Pomegranate Based Substitute to Tamarind Paste
7. Amchur Powder (Mango Powder)
Amchoor powder has a tart taste.
Dried unripe mangoes are used to form this powder which provides a tart and tangy flavor. It is essentially a dried green mango powder.
Used often in Indian cuisine to help to even out dishes bringing the acid to balance out salt, sugar, and heat.
Amchur powder substitutes could also be considered.
I would start with 1 amchur powder to ½ tamarind paste if using it as an alternative.
8. Citric acid powder
This is another great substitute. Citric acid comes in either crystals or powdered form. If you have crystals, be sure to grind them into a fine powder with a mortar/pestle.
Citric acid is used in many Indian snacks such as poha chivda and gives it a great tangy taste.
1/4 tsp + 1/2 tsp sugar to 1 tsp tamarind paste
Sumac is a spice with a tangy flavor and can be used as a substitute for tamarind paste in equal amounts. It has a similar taste profile and is often used in Middle Eastern cuisine.
10. Vinegar: Rice Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, White Vinegar
I don’t recommend using vinegar as a tamarind substitute in any Indian recipe. It is too sharp of a taste.
I think rice vinegar + brown sugar in equal proportions can work well in Pad Thai.
11. Tomato Paste
This isn’t a great substitute as a tomato is a strong flavor that can change the dish you are making.
Throwing it out there as it has a slightly sweet and acidic taste. I wouldn’t use it regularly as a substitute.
12. Worcestershire Sauce Isn’t a Great Substitute
While this provides sour notes, the sauce hits a bunch of extra notes as well. It is also not usually vegetarian. Definitely wouldn’t substitute in Indian recipes.
The anchovies or soy sauce in Worcestershire Sauce contribute to its potent umami flavor, while tamarind and vinegar add sourness, molasses, and sugar to bring sweetness, and spiciness rounds out the taste profile.
Here are the ingredients of a common brand: Distilled Vinegar, Water, Molasses, Sugar, Salt, Spices, Citric Acid, Anchovy (Fish), Celery Seed, Natural Flavor (Contains Soy), Xanthan Gum (Thickener), Garlic Powder & Tamarind Extract.
Just reading all that makes me not want to use it. Vinegar is the primary ingredient which is not a great alternative on its own.
Note: While these substitutes can provide a similar flavor profile to tamarind paste, they may not provide the same taste. It’s best to use a replacement based on what you have on hand and adjust the quantities to your taste.
Indian Recipes With Tamarind + Substitute Ideas
|1||Rasam||Lime or Lemon juice: Even though the sour taste of tamarind is different than lime or lemon, it can work in a pinch.|
|2||Sambar or dal||Kokum, Lime, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses|
|3||Imli Chutney or Tamarind Chutney||There is no substitute here as tamarind is the hero ingredient. Suggest using a Date Chutney, Apple Butter Chutney, Apple Chutney or even a Cranberry Chutney instead to get the combo of tang + sweetness.|
|4||Tamarind Rice||No substitute again as it is the star of the dish!|
|5||Tamarind Sauce||Again, it is tough to substitute. You can try using pomegranate molasses and watering it down a bit.|
11+ Tamarind Paste Substitute Ideas: What’s Best?
- 1 Bowl
- 1 serving lemon juice OR
- 1 serving lime juice OR
- 1 serving pomegranate powder (anardana) or molasses OR
- 1 serving tamarind pulp OR
- 1 serving date chutney (or pureed dates + lemon juice) OR
- 1 serving kokum
- Substitute your choice of ingredient to use 1:1 in the place of tamarind rice when you are in a pinch.