Wondering what tamarind tastes like? If you want to include tamarind in your diet, but you’re not sure of the taste, read on to understand the flavors of this tropical fruit better. Learn what it is, what it tastes like, and how to use it!
What is Tamarind?
Before we get into what tamarind tastes like, let’s talk about what it is. Tamarind is a tropical fruit that grows on tamarind trees and is shaped like stringy bean pods. Each individual pod is packed with seeds encased in a sticky pulp with the texture of ripe dates or figs. When you crack open a pod, this pulp around the seeds is what you want. The seeds are quite hard and are usually discarded after removing the pulp from around them. This pulp is then used in different ways, depending on what you are making. It is very popular in the cuisines of South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
What Does Tamarind Taste Like?
Tamarind has a sharp, predominantly sour, and tangy taste with hints of sweetness. The sweetness increases as the fruit ripens, so the riper the fruit is, the sweeter it is. Conversely, the more unripe or raw the fruit is, the more sour it is. However, even in the ripest fruit, a distinct tartness remains. The tartness is primarily due to a high concentration of tartaric acid in the fruit.
Ever tasted green mango powder or ‘amchur’ or ‘khatai’ as it is known in India? Green mango powder, a widely used spice in Indian cooking is the closest you can get to tamarind. It is very sour like tamarind and is often used as a substitute for it. However, it does not have the complex flavor or the underlying sweetness of tamarind. You can also think of lemon juice with dissolved brown sugar as approaching the taste of tamarind, although this too does not capture its unique flavor completely. You can use these substitutes in a pinch, but if you want the authentic tamarind taste, use the real thing!
How is Tamarind Used?
Ah, now that is a good question! Tamarind is quite versatile and is used to add that wow factor to a variety of South Asian dishes. These days, seedless tamarind is available in ready to use packets in the international aisles of most supermarkets. All you have to do is break off blobs of the stuff and use them according to the requirements of the recipe.
For example, tamarind is the main ingredient in tamarind chutney, a lip-smacking, deliciously sweet and sour sauce used as an accompaniment with Indian snacks and street food. This chutney hits all the major flavors. It is sour, sweet, and spicy all at the same time thanks to tamarind, jaggery, and ground spices like red chilli, ginger, and roasted cumin. Indian street food like dahi bhalla (fried lentil balls in yogurt) and aloo chaat (spiced baby potato halves) cannot do without a generous dose of tamarind chutney. And you can’t even think of eating aloo tikki (crispy spiced potato patties) without smothering them in this chutney. These gluten-free snacks would actually taste quite bland without it. In short, tamarind chutney is a must with these snacks!
Tamarind water (tamarind pulp diluted with water) is also an essential ingredient in savory vegan and gluten-free dishes like eggplant curry and potato curry. These are usually had with Indian breads like naan, but if you are on a gluten-free diet, you can have them with cumin rice or even brown rice.
So, how do you make tamarind water? It’s actually quite easy. Soak a big blob of tamarind (with or without seeds) in 1-2 cups of hot water and leave it on the countertop for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You will see that the tamarind will seep into the water and turn it a rich brown. Pass the tamarind and water through a sieve and you will be left with tamarind water minus the tamarind. Use this water in your savory curry dishes to infuse them with some tangy deliciousness!
Now that you know so much about tamarind, go ahead and experiment. Try adding a little tamarind to your food for a change and see the difference!
Images shared with permission from India Ambrosia.