Your Guide to Tamarind, the Pod-Like Fruit with a Tart, Puckery Taste

Tamarind, often called for in paste form, is tart, slightly sour, incredibly versatile, and perfect for sweet and savory dishes alike.

Crushed tamarind in shadow

Karishma Pradhan

Wondering about tamarind paste concentrate vs tamarind paste puree, or how to make your own tamarind puree at home? We've got the info.

Good to Know

  • Tamarind is originally indigenous to Africa but, over time, spread globally to many tropical and sub-tropical countries.
  • You can often find tamarind in the international aisle of a grocery store or a specialty food shop.
  • Typical dishes that use tamarind include tamarind chutney, agua de tamarindo, tamarind sugar candy, Pad Thai, and various curries.
Tamarind

Karishma Pradhan

What is Tamarind?

Tamarind is a tree indigenous to Africa that produces chocolate-brown pod-like fruits with a sticky, sweet, and sour pulp inside. Populations across Asia, Africa, and South and Central America extensively use tamarind in cooking.

Typical dishes that use tamarind include tamarind chutney, agua de tamarindo, tamarind sugar candy, Pad Thai, and various curries.

Natural vs Pulp vs Paste

Tamarind can be purchased in several forms:

  • In its natural state, where the outer pod is cracked open to reveal its fibrous, fleshy, seedy pulp.
  • As a block of tamarind pulp, the juicy insides of the fruit have been moistened and molded into a brick.
  • As a smooth, homogeneous paste, where seeds and fibers have been removed.

Most culinary applications of tamarind require tamarind paste, which can be found as either tamarind paste concentrate or tamarind paste puree.

Types of jarred tamarind paste

Karishma Pradhan

Where to Buy Tamarind Paste

As mentioned above, there are two distinct types of tamarind paste:

  • Tamarind paste concentrate is a dark, shiny, viscous syrup that is quite intense in flavor.
  • Tamarind paste puree is thicker than concentrate and more similarly resembles a homemade paste in texture. The puree is usually slightly less tart than the concentrate but still packs a punch.

You can find tamarind paste in most grocery stores in the international aisle, a local Indian grocery store, Asian grocery stores such as Hmart, specialty organic food stores, or online at a retailer like Pure Indian Foods. Typically, store-bought tamarind paste will have the texture of a thick puree or a glossy syrup.

The shelf-life of store-bought tamarind paste will vary considerably depending on the method used, but most products will last about 6 - 8 months in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can also freeze tamarind paste for increased longevity.

Storebought tamarind paste concentrate vs tamarind paste puree vs homemade tamarind paste

Karishma Pradhan

How to Make Homemade Tamarind Paste

Store-bought pastes can have added ingredients, taste too concentrated, or be difficult to source. As a result, some home cooks prefer homemade tamarind paste to its store-bought counterpart. The homemade version yields a thick, brown puree made from a block of tamarind pulp.

The process requires the following steps:

  1. Tear the tamarind: Tear the block of tamarind into small pieces with your hands and place it into a microwave-safe bowl. You can use as much or as little of the brick as you need and keep any remaining tamarind pulp in an airtight container in the fridge.
  2. Add water and microwave: Add just enough water to barely submerge the tamarind pieces. Microwave the bowl for 1-2 minutes (or until the water is hot). The heat will soften the tamarind.
  3. Let it rest: Let the bowl sit out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes until the water is no longer hot to the touch.
  4. Squeeze out the pulp: Place your hands in the bowl and squeeze as much pulp out of each piece of tamarind. Push the tamarind (pulp and water) through a fine-mesh sieve. You can continue to squeeze the pieces with your hands, then push the pulp through the sieve for maximum yield. Now you have tamarind paste!
  5. Store: Store the resulting paste in an airtight container for up to 7-10 days in the refrigerator. For a longer shelf-life, home cooks will boil the paste for 10-15 minutes and then transfer it to an airtight, sterilized jar to keep in the fridge.

How to Cook with Tamarind Paste

You can use tamarind paste in a variety of applications. Play around with substituting a little where you might use another acid, such as lime juice, lemon juice, or vinegar. It is an excellent base for a salad dressing, marinade, or dipping sauce.

There are also many great recipes for sweet applications of tamarind - for example, a juice, cocktail, or even cake.

Store-bought brands vary slightly in their sweetness and acidity, so start by adding a little bit into your dish and adjusting as needed, especially if you are unfamiliar with the product.

How to Substitute Tamarind Paste

If you can't find (or make) tamarind paste, there are a few substitutes:

  • Pomegranate molasses has a similar consistency, acidity, and sweetness to tamarind paste concentrate.
  • A combination of lime juice and brown sugar is an acceptable substitute, though the flavor is slightly different.

Some recipes may call for tamarind paste concentrate, while others will recommend the tamarind paste puree. For an easy conversion, follow this: 3 tablespoons homemade tamarind paste puree = 2 tablespoons store-bought tamarind paste puree = 1 tablespoon store-bought tamarind paste concentrate + 2 tablespoons water.

Recipes That Use Tamarind Paste