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Sweet Tamarind vs. Sour Tamarind?

I was at my local Asian grocer the other day and they had two types of tamarind pods, both of which came in boxes. One was labeled "sweet" tamarind and the other was labeled "sour" tamarind. There was no other info on the box (except the nutritional information, which was the same for both) and the ladies that run the store couldn't tell me anything. The tamarind pods themselves looked basically the same, from what I could see - one might have been a little smaller than the other, but it could have just been that one box had smaller pods on top. Has anyone encountered this, and if so, can you comment on the difference in flavor? I was looking for tamarind as a tangy component, of course, and I didn't want to buy the "sweet" kind if they were truly sweet, nor the "sour" kind if they were just sour. Thanks!

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  1. Tamarind comes in a variety of shades of sweet and sour. Those sweet whole pods you see in boxes where you need to peel off the pods are good for eating as a fruit. I've never cooked with them. For making tamarind paste for Indian dishes I buy the small rectangular packs of dried tamarind. DON'T buy pre-made tamarind pastes or concentrates like Tamcon - they haven't got the flavour.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Muchlove

      Muchlove, I was looking for the little pack of dried tamarind but for whatever reason I couldn't find any - not even at the big Indian grocery. I picked up a jar of concentrate just to try, but will continue the hunt for the good stuff. Failing that, it sounds like the "sour" tamarind from the Asian market is more what I'm looking for - I'll bet the "sweet" kind will be too sweet.

      1. re: biondanonima

        It's just that sweet is nicer to eat as is. There is also a sweet-sour kind (I find the Thai tamarind for cooking is always too sweet). Did you also know that you can plant the seeds from inside those sweet tamarind pods and grow yourself a little tamarind plant? The leaves are good for some South Indian dishes.

      2. re: Muchlove

        I disagree about the concentrate. I adore tamarind, and have made the paste myself from the big pack of tamarind, as well as using the jar of concentrate. I find far more flavour from the concentrate, for a better price and less hassle.

        1. re: CanadaGirl

          Well, what can I say, maybe you got a bad block of bad tamarind. Or maybe you just have different tastes fro m me.

          In my opinion the concentrates, for instance Tamcon, are merely viscous brown sludges with sourness but not even a fraction of the glorious fruitiness of proper tamarind.

          The trick is not to make tamarind up in advance - make it for each dish. Take the tamarind quantity you need (a lime size ball is good for sambar, rasam, bisi bele huli anna - take a smaller lime for some chutneys and so on) and soak in hot water until soft. Press through a seive squeezing out all the pulp you can and add to the dish. Divine.

          1. re: Muchlove

            Maybe I'll give the "real" stuff another try.

            1. re: Muchlove

              1. when you mean lime size which lime are you referring to? tiny key lime?

              2.when do you add your pulp? to the cooking water so the veggies cook in it, or after the veggies have cooked?

              1. re: dahlias

                1. Depends on how sour your Tamarind is.
                2. Most Recipes tell you when to add your Tamarind.

            2. re: CanadaGirl

              Concentrate is definitely more processed, I believe it starts it's life as a block of the tamarind water added and the pulp removed then it is concentrated for shipping. Even here in Thailand where you have fresh tamarind available for certain purposes (sweet snack), cooking uses the "tamarind blocks". The concentrate or bottled stuff is sold in supermarkets for convenience, but not the preferred choice (not to mention much more expensive). Like fish sauce you cannot rely completely on recipes since salinity between fish sauce bottles may vary by up to 50% -- you have to rely on tasting to ensure proper amount is used.

              Think of it like the difference between drinking orange juice from concentrate and freshly squeezed.....

              Sweet tamarind is the ripened, sour not.... Sweet tamarind is sold at street level as a snack and I would not be surprised if it could be used in deserts but never run into it that way. Sour tamarind paste/juice is used for cooking savoury dishes (the sour part of the balance of flavours).

          2. Like other cultivated fruits, certain types of tamarind have been bred to select for sweetness and lessen the acidity of the fruit. I've never had a sweet tamarind that I would call "sweet" in the treacly sense of the word, but I've definitely had fruits that were less sour than others.

            The highly acidic sour tamarind I'm familiar with comes from the juvenile plant. If the fruit was brown, I think there are bound to be sugars in there to somewhat balance the acidity.

            1. 1. how do you eat tamarind as a fruit?

              2. there is a sweet whole tamarind from thailand , and a whole tamarind from mexico. what is the difference between these tamarind in terms of use and taste, and which tamarind pod was used in indian cooking?

              1 Reply
              1. re: dahlias

                Peel the outer shell and eat. Do not bite the Seeds.

                As mentioned before Tamarind varies in its sweet sour balance. There is no great difference between the Tamarind grown in Asia or the Americas. It is originally from Asia and was brought to the Americas later.