What is Tamarind and how to Use It

Tamarind is a tropical fruit that is used as a souring ingredient in many cuisines around the world. Find out how to use it here!
Tamarind pods
tamarind pods and tamarind mash
Tamarind pods and pulp

Tamarind is a tropical fruit that is used as a souring agent in many cuisines around the world.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

What is Tamarind?

Tamarind is a fruit for starters, and grows on the tamarind tree as bean pods that contain many seeds encased in a moist, sticky brown pulp. It is this pulp that is prized for its sour and a little sweet properties.

Commonly thought to be African in origin, Tamarindus indica belongs to the legume or bean family which also includes soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts and peas. However, it is nothing like them!

Tamarind is known by so many different names, depending on the part of the world. For instance:

  • assam in Singapore and Malaysia (in Malay)
  • assam jawa in Indonesia (also in Singapore/Malaysia)
  • tamarindo in Latin America
  • sampaloc in the Philippines
  • imli in Hindi

Incidentally, India is now the largest producer of tamarind.

tamarind pulp in a white bowl
tamarind pulp out of its pods

What does Tamarind Taste Like?

Tamarind is high in tartaric acid, resulting in a very sour and slightly sweet flavour. This is why it’s highly prized in many cuisines around the world.

It lends tartness and a touch of sweet to so many dishes, like:

How to Use Tamarind?

assam soaking in hot water
assam soaking in hot water

It is often sold in blocks of compressed pulps in “ethnic” stores. All you have to do is tear a little of the pulp of, soak it in hot water, and mash it with your fingers.

Then you strain the brown liquid to obtain the brown, sour juice to add to whatever recipe you are using it in.

Take a look at the instruction card below, as well as the video to see how it’s done.

If you’ve got a jar of it in paste form, the best thing to do is to read the instructions. If they aren’t available, a rough guide is 1 Tbsp of jar paste = 1 Tbsp pulp.

tamarind juice in a glass bowl, after straining
tamarind juice in a glass bowl, after straining

Substitute for Tamarind

The best substitute for tamarind is the humble clear vinegar. Or Chinese rice vinegar.

You get the tartness with a hint of sweetness, without any unnecessary added flavours that lime or lemon juice will impart.

I’ve heard suggestions of adding some brown sugar to the mix – that’s an absolute NO! While tamarind is a little sweet when tasted neat, it really does not add sweetness to dishes. So there is no need for any form of sugar. Take it from a lifelong tamarind user.

Assam Jawa Seeds for Mancala

assam jawa seeds
assam jawa seeds

My siblings and I grew up with my granny for the most part, and we had so many favourite games as kids during that time, that we’d play on a daily basis.

There was monopoly, carom and a favourite that we played with all our neighbours, mancala. Or as we called it by its Malay name, congkak.

We would inevitably lose the mancala pieces. As a result, my granny was always cleaning tamarind seeds to replace them. So assam jawa was very handy that way!

One of my most treasured memories.

Recipes using Tamarind

Remember, this is a brand new site, started in Jan 2021. I shall add more as we go on, like Mee Siam Kuah and curries.

Now let’s go take a look at how to use tamarind.

More Singaporean & Malaysian Ingredients

♥ If you found this article useful, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Thank you! 

And feel free to tag me on Instagram @azlinbloor with your recipes. If using one of mine, hashtag it #linsfood.

Lin xx

Tamarind pods

What is Tamarind and How to use It

Azlin Bloor
Tamarind is a tropical fruit that is used as a souring ingredient in many cuisines around the world. Find out how to use it here!
5 from 7 votes
Cuisine Indian, Indonesian, Latin American, Malaysian, Singaporean

Equipment

  • 2 bowls
  • strainer – medium mesh

Ingredients
 

Instructions
 

  • Place your pulp in the first bowl and pour the hot water over it.
  • Leave to soak for 5 minutes, mashing with a fork halfway through, to loosen the pulp.
  • At the end of 5 minutes, mash it up well with your fingers. I find that the water, by this stage, isn't too hot to handle. If you do, add a little cold water (or water from the tap) to cool it down. Don't worry about the dilution if it's going to be cooked.
    If it's going in a chutney, then perhaps, let your boiling water cool down for 5 minutes, then soak the pulp for 10 minutes.
    Basically, the hotter the water, the less time it needs to soak.
  • Strain your tamarind mix through your sieve or strainer, pushing down on the pulp in the strainer.
    You don't want your sieve too fine, as you won't get the essence of the tamarind juice which will be too big to go through.
    You could also just strain it straight onto your recipe.
    My granny wouldn't even bother with a strainer, she'd just get the pulp and big pieces out, and drop the rest into the dish she was cooking. I do this very often too.
  • Any leftover can be kept, covered, in the fridge for a week.

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 76kcalCarbohydrates: 20gProtein: 1gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 9mgPotassium: 201mgFiber: 2gSugar: 18gVitamin A: 10IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 24mgIron: 1mg
Discover more Ingredients!Check out The Ingredients Page
Keyword assam, ingredients

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