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If I'm using amchur primarily just for the tanginess, are there any good substitutes? I'd rather avoid things like lemon juice, since often it's very convenient that it's a powder, not a liquid.

  • (For the record, I personally live down the street from an Indian store and have plenty of amchur but sometimes I share recipes with people with less well-stocked spice racks.) – Cascabel Nov 3 '15 at 22:50
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Amchur doesn't give much of a flavor other than sour, at least, not in the amounts I use of it. It does have a bit of a distinctive aroma, but really, to me, it is just a fairly neutral sour flavor.

The easiest, most neutral substitute would be citric acid powder. Unfortunately, they don't usually give concentration/strengths on the packaging, but comparing Ball Citric Acid for Canning to the powdered amchur from the Indian store, it's pretty close. I think the citric acid tastes a tiny bit lemony, but not enough to make a difference.

Also, the amchur powder I buy is generally quite finely ground, and the citric acid is generally in crystals. If you are doing something like a spice blend (e.g., chat masala powder) you would probably want to grind the crystals up to match the texture of the rest of the spices.

Depending on what you're making, there are quite a few substitutions, but most of them would be more obscure than (or at least as obscure as) the amchur, and all would be less neutral. Also, amchur is dry, so adding something liquid might affect your recipe. (Easy to adjust if you are adding to something liquid, of course.)

In many Indian dishes, most of the Indians I know simply do use lemon juice when they want to make something sour, especially for northern dishes. This really is quite common, and nearly every Indian cook I know in the US has a large bottle of lemon juice in the fridge for every day use.

If you're making something South Indian, tamarind pulp or paste is often the souring agent of choice, but it is distinctly not neutral. It has a distinctive flavor and will also darken things (in a somewhat yellow-orange-brown range).

Some regions also use dried kokum fruit in the same way (classic Maharashtrian aamti, for example), but I would say it is even more distinctive than tamarind, and it also will darken it (with a dark grey-green-brown range of color).

For both kokum and tamarind, you soak the pulp in water and add the soaking water without the pulp to the dish. You can also usually find tamarind concentrate (a tarry paste) but I've never seen anything like that for kokum.

One more option I just thought of is using some other unripe or sour fruit. Amchur is made by powdering dried green mangoes. You can actually sometimes find dried green mangoes at places like Trader Joe's and if it is unsweetened, a small piece of that can certainly be used, but it seems that any fruit that is firm and sour should work, such as an unripe plum or a very tart apple. In that case, I would suggest either cooking with a small piece or two of the fruit in the sauce (if there is one) and removing it later or you could try to crush it and press some juice out. The problem here would be in figuring out the correct amount to add, but I think you could start from the dried-to-fresh conversion rates for herbs.

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    I see one problem with lime/lemon juice: it could degrade in case you decide to store and reheat the food, or cook it further. After all, you are supposed to add it only in the finishing phase of cooking. In some cases, a neutral/distilled vinegar (not wine, malt, apple cider or flavored vinegar!) might work better... – rackandboneman Nov 4 '15 at 14:14
  • Vinegar could be used, but in my experience it is not used very much in Indian cooking. I'm sure your concerns about lemon juice breaking down are valid, but I'm not sure that it detrimental to the dish. Maybe that is part of why leftovers sometimes seem better? ;-) – NadjaCS Nov 4 '15 at 15:22
  • There are some vinegar based dishes (admittedly, not nearly as common as other souring agents). My favorite is a particular gajar ka dish (I don't recall off hand where I got the recipe) - it's essentially carrots and spices that have been caramelized in malt vinegar. Really amazing stuff. I've also bottled several chutneys that use vinegar as a souring agent. – S. Burt Nov 4 '15 at 20:07
  • I'm not saying it isn't used at all, just that my experience shows it to be less common. It could also be a regional thing, for example, vindaloo does use vinegar and I think that is more from the Portuguese influence. – NadjaCS Nov 4 '15 at 20:30
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I suppose citric acid powder might work (i.e., if you want the convenience of a powder vs a liquid souring agent). That being said, I've never tried this myself and I suspect it's about as difficult to find as amchur powder.

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    It's not difficult to find in the same way, though; a lot of bigger grocery stores will sell it for canning but you'll have a hard time finding amchur if it's not part of any of the more prominent local cuisines. – Cascabel Nov 3 '15 at 23:44
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    In the US I have seen citric acid in Asian markets, grocery stores, seasonally in home goods stores (and sometimes even craft stores) where they sell canning jars. It depends on where you are -- here in California there is stuff for canning available year round, but in NY/NJ you're lucky to find it even in the fall at a regular store. – NadjaCS Nov 4 '15 at 0:18
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I also use crushed dried pomegranate seeds for tangy flavours in Indian curries. And once cooked, you don't get the crushed texture, rather smooth curries.

However, for making mint chutney, I use fresh green mangoes and I understand that they do have liquid content in them, but pulp as well, which balances out the liquid.

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