The Simple Ratio To Substitute Tamarind Paste With Ketchup

Craving a hefty bowl of Pad Thai but run out of tamarind paste? Don't throw in the towel just yet. Luckily there's an easy way to recreate the characteristic sweet and sour notes of this tangy fruit using two common pantry staples: ketchup and a tiny splash of vinegar. The simple ratio of 5 parts ketchup to one part vinegar makes a fast tamarind paste substitute that has a complex character and interesting depth of flavor.

Grown in South Asia and Africa, tamarind comes from the Tamarindus indica tree. Found inside the pods that grow on the branches, this pulpy, fibrous fruit has an almost sticky texture that's a bit like the flesh of a Medjool date. Tamarind is mouth-puckeringly tart when it's young but develops a sweetness as it matures, making it the perfect ingredient in many dishes that require a balance of complementary flavors, such as spicy papdi chaat, fragrant chutneys, and lip-smacking pani puri. A classic bottle of shop-bought ketchup — made with tart tomatoes, a touch of sugar, and a splash of acidic vinegar — features all the right elements but in different proportions. Incorporating an extra glug of vinegar into a generously thick splodge of ketchup amps up its existing tartness and loosens its texture. The vinegar also balances out some of the sweetness in the ketchup without masking it. Conversely, the sugar in the ketchup takes the sour edge off the vinegar to create a tart but sweet mixture with a smooth consistency.

Dialing in the right flavor

You could use lemon juice as a tamarind substitute, however, a spritz of citrus will still be missing the caramel-like sweetness that comes from using the real deal. Similarly, using an ingredient like brown sugar or syrup alone won't provide the telltale tartness that tamarind paste brings to the table. Substituting tamarind with a balanced ratio of ketchup and vinegar is a clever move because both ingredients create a sweet and sour taste when their characteristics are combined. They're also more readily available than tamarind paste and are likely to be a couple of essentials that you have on hand anyway.

If you prefer your tamarind paste to be extra sour or a little sweeter, you can simply adjust the ratios by reducing or increasing the amount of ketchup in your blend. You can also experiment with different varieties of vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar to build a subtler mix of flavors. A combination of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and fish sauce works too if you don't have vinegar available. Once you've prepped your personalized tamarind substitute, it'll be the perfect addition to your Pad Thai or even your next whiskey sour nightcap.