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Thai Cooking 101: All You Need to Know About Tamarind Paste


When asked to think of something with a sour flavour, most people will immediately think of lemons, limes, and vinegar. Chances are tamarind paste won’t even be anywhere near the top of most people’s lists. But in Thai cooking, tamarind paste is a powerful ingredient that’s used to give certain dishes a distinct sour taste that other ingredients can’t replicate. One problem with tamarind paste is that it’s such an alien ingredient, so most westerners don’t know what they can use it for. Even though it’s sour, tamarind doesn’t have any hint of citrus whatsoever. Instead, it smells like sweet fruit, but its sweetness is very subtle.

To help you understand how to cook with this magnificent ingredient, here’s a quick guide to tamarind paste:

What Is Tamarind Paste?

Tamarind is a type of fruit that’s grown in tropical regions around the world, such as Central Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. It comes in hard brown pods with tough membranes covering the sticky, blackish-brown flesh inside the shell. Once the meat of the fruit is removed from the pod, the hard seeds inside will be extracted and the flesh is then boiled for five to ten minutes to soften it up. When it’s removed, it’s usually left to cool for a bit before it’s mashed to make the paste. You can make your own tamarind paste at home using this method, as it’s an incredibly straightforward process. That said, tamarind paste is not a difficult ingredient to find, as it’s sold in practically every Asian store out there. If you can’t find it at your local stores, you can order it online.

Cooking With Tamarind Paste:

When you buy tamarind paste from a shop, you can use it right from the container. However, most people opt to mix a spoonful of it with two tablespoons of warm water before use. This helps reduce the intensity of the tamarind paste’s flavour while making sure that it’s spread evenly throughout the dish. Tamarind paste can be quite difficult to dissolve, so it’s better that you do it first so that you don’t bite into a chunk of it in your soup.

Tamarind paste is used for all types of dishes, including soups and stir-fries. It’s also used as a dip. The most common dish that uses tamarind paste is called kang-som, which is a sour and spicy orange soup with fish, fried eggs, and other herbs. You can also find fried shrimp with tamarind sauce, which is made of chili flakes, palm sugar, and tamarind paste. Tamarind is also usually one of the key ingredients used in Pad Thai sauce.

How to Substitute Tamarind Paste:

If you don’t have access to fresh tamarind or even bottled tamarind paste, you can make a close substitute by mixing vinegar with lime juice and a touch of honey or brown sugar. Start with one tablespoon of white vinegar, one tablespoon of brown sugar, and a teaspoon of lime juice. That’s enough to recreate the tangy profile of tamarind paste.

How to Store Tamarind Paste:

Tamarind paste should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place. If stored in a cabinet, tamarind place has a shelf life of around three to five months, but if you leave it in the fridge, it can last for much longer. There are usually two types of tamarind pastes you can buy: the liquid form and the thick paste form. For the liquid variety, you will need to give the bottle a good shake before using it to make sure that it’s well-mixed.

Health Benefits of Tamarind

Tamarind has a high vitamin C content, which can help combat colds and other infections. It also has a cooling effect, which will help to prevent heat stroke and heat-induced migraines. Additionally, it can also help alleviate indigestion and acid reflux, which makes it an incredibly healthy ingredient.

If you're looking to learn how to cook Thai food, get in touch to book one of our classes today!


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