Tamarind is an Asian pantry ingredient that’s essential for the vegan kitchen. It’s a staple of Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese cooking, and also shows up in Latin and Caribbean dishes.
Tamarind is a pod fruit that’s native to East Africa and Madagascar. The pulp inside the pod is what’s used for cooking.
Tamarind is a great ingredient for vegans because it adds umami, that savory element that is sometimes lacking in meatless dishes.
Tamarind provides acidity to dishes but has much more depth of flavor than basic lemon juice or vinegar. It’s tangy and sweet-tart, with floral, smoky, and caramel notes.
In the store, tamarind comes in pod-, paste-, and concentrate-form. You can find tamarind at Asian markets, global food stores, or Latin markets.
Using whole dried pods involves extracting the pulp, simmering it, and straining it.
Tamarind paste is pulp pressed into a block. It often contains seeds and tough fibers. To use tamarind paste in recipes, follow these instructions for making tamarind extract.
Tamarind concentrate is the easiest to handle. It’s a thick syrup that’s sold in a jar and ready to use (although sometimes you need to dilute it). I often add a few tablespoons of tamarind concentrate to Asian stir fries and curries.
Here are some of my favorite vegan recipes using tamarind:
- Tamarind Seitan Kabobs
- Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry
- Pad Thai
- Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Chutney
- Tamarind and Vodka Cocktail
Like coconut water, tamarind is a great ingredient for beating the heat. In tropical countries, people use tamarind to cool down the body. It’s also high in vitamin C and good for digestion.