Tomato Alternatives in Indian Cuisine

Tomatoes have long been a staple ingredient in Indian cuisine, lending their vibrant colour, tangy flavour, and unique taste to various dishes. However, the skyrocketing prices of tomatoes in recent times have left many budget-conscious individuals seeking alternatives that can provide similar taste and versatility without breaking the bank. In this blog post, we will explore some fantastic tomato alternatives in Indian cuisine that are both affordable and delicious.


Tamarind is a popular ingredient in Indian cooking, known for its tangy and slightly sweet flavour. It is widely used in chutneys, sambar, rasam, and various other dishes to impart a rich and distinctive taste. Tamarind pulp can be easily made by soaking tamarind in warm water and then extracting the juice. This tangy alternative can add depth and complexity to your dishes, making it an excellent replacement for tomatoes.

When it comes to finding a tomato alternative that closely mimics the fresh, sweet-tangy flavour, tamarind emerges as a top contender. With its unique taste profile, incorporating tamarind pulp or paste into your recipes can seamlessly replace tomatoes in a variety of dishes, including dals, curries, and stir-fries.

Tamarind, renowned for its tangy and slightly sweet notes, adds a depth of flavour that resembles the acidity and brightness of tomatoes. To utilize tamarind as a tomato substitute, simply substitute tamarind pulp or paste in equal quantities in your desired recipes.

For dishes like dals, curries, and stir-fries, tamarind pulp or paste can be added during the cooking process to infuse the dish with its distinctive tanginess. Start by soaking tamarind pulp in warm water for a few minutes to soften it. Then, extract the juice by squeezing and straining it. Alternatively, you can use ready-made tamarind paste, which is more convenient and readily available in stores.

Once you have your tamarind pulp or paste ready, incorporate it into your dishes at the same stage where you would typically add tomatoes. Stir it thoroughly to ensure even distribution throughout the dish. The tamarind will infuse your preparations with its rich, sweet-tangy flavour, providing a flavour profile that closely resembles tomatoes.

Whether you're preparing a comforting dal, a hearty curry, or a quick stir-fry, the inclusion of tamarind offers a delightful alternative to tomatoes. Its robust taste adds a pleasant tanginess while imparting a depth of flavour that can elevate your dishes to new heights.

Tamarind's versatility and availability in various forms, such as pulp and paste, make it an accessible and convenient option for those seeking tomato alternatives. With its ability to mimic the fresh and vibrant flavour of tomatoes, tamarind proves to be a valuable ingredient in your culinary repertoire.

So, next time you find yourself in need of a tomato substitute, look no further than tamarind. Embrace its sweet-tangy essence and explore the exciting possibilities it brings to your dals, curries, and stir-fries. Let tamarind lend its distinctive touch, and delight in the flavours it brings to your Indian culinary creations.

Raw Mango

Raw mangoes offer a fantastic substitute for tomatoes with their sour and slightly sweet taste. They are especially popular during the summer season when they are abundant and readily available. Raw mangoes can be used in a variety of dishes, including pickles, chutneys, curries, and salads, adding a delightful tang to the overall flavour profile.

While raw mango may not be an exact replacement for the texture and acidity of tomatoes, it can provide a tangy flavour that can complement certain dishes in a similar way. Raw mangoes offer a unique taste profile that can add a refreshing and tangy twist to your recipes. Here are a few ways raw mango can be used as an alternative to tomatoes in Indian cuisine:

Souring Agent in Curries: In some regional cuisines, raw mango is used as a souring agent in curries and stews. Its tangy taste can provide a similar acidic note that tomatoes contribute to the overall flavour profile of the dish. Raw mango can be added during the cooking process to impart a delightful tang and balance the flavours.

Salads and Raitas: Raw mangoes can be grated or thinly sliced and used in salads and raitas. Their tanginess brings a refreshing element to the dish, providing a burst of flavour that can replace the tanginess typically provided by tomatoes.

While raw mango may not replicate the exact taste and texture of tomatoes, it can be a creative and flavorful alternative in certain preparations. Its tangy profile adds a distinct element to dishes, allowing you to explore new dimensions of flavour while working with what's available. So, don't hesitate to experiment with raw mangoes and discover how they can bring a unique twist to your favourite recipes.


Kokum, a fruit native to the western coastal regions of India, has a sour taste and imparts a vibrant red colour to dishes. It is often used in curries, sol kadhi, and refreshing summer drinks. Kokum's tanginess can mimic the acidity found in tomatoes, making it an excellent alternative.

Kokam, with its sour taste and vibrant red colour, can be used as a creative replacement for tomatoes in certain dishes. While it may not provide the same texture as tomatoes, kokam can offer a tangy and acidic flavour that adds a unique dimension to your recipes. Here are a few ways to use kokam as a tomato alternative in Indian cuisine:

Tangy Soups and Broths: Kokam can be added to soups and broths to provide a tangy and sour flavour. Simply soak a few pieces of kokam in warm water until it softens, then add the soaked kokam, along with the water, to your soup or broth. It will infuse the dish with its tanginess, similar to the way tomatoes add acidity to soups.

Curry Enhancer: While kokam may not act as a direct replacement for tomatoes in curries, it can be used as a flavour enhancer. By adding a small piece of kokam to your curry during the cooking process, you can impart a tangy and sour note that adds depth and complexity to the dish.

Remember that kokam has a strong flavour, so it's important to use it sparingly and adjust the quantity according to your taste preferences. Additionally, its vibrant red colour can add an appealing visual element to your dishes.

While kokam may not provide the exact qualities of tomatoes, it offers a unique tangy flavour that can be incorporated into various recipes. Embrace its distinct taste and explore the exciting possibilities it brings to your culinary creations.

Amchur (Dried Mango Powder)

Amchur, or dried mango powder, is made by grinding dried green mangoes into a fine powder. It is widely used as a souring agent in various Indian dishes, including curries, chutneys, and marinades. Amchur provides a tangy flavour reminiscent of raw mangoes and can be used to substitute for the acidity of tomatoes.


Yoghurt, commonly known as curd in India, is a versatile ingredient that can serve as a tomato alternative in certain dishes. It is often used in gravies, raitas, and marinades to provide a creamy texture and a hint of tanginess. Curd can be particularly useful when creating rich and flavorful curries, offering a creamy and acidic base.

To incorporate yoghurt into your dishes without it breaking or curdling, follow these steps:

Choose full-fat curd: Opt for full-fat curd as it has a higher fat content, which makes it less likely to curdle when exposed to heat. Low-fat or non-fat yoghurt tends to separate or curdle more easily.

Stir curd thoroughly: Before adding it to your dish, give the yoghurt a good stir to ensure it is smooth and well-blended. This helps prevent any lumps or clumps from forming when you introduce it to the heat.

Temper the curd: To further prevent curdling, temper the yoghurt by slowly introducing it to the hot dish. Take a small amount of the hot liquid from the dish and gradually whisk it into the yoghurt. This helps the yoghurt adjust to the temperature difference and prevents it from curdling when added to the main dish.

Add curd at the end: Instead of adding yoghurt early in the cooking process, incorporate it towards the end, once the dish has finished cooking or is nearly done. This limits the exposure of the yoghurt to prolonged heat, reducing the chances of it breaking or curdling.

Low heat and gentle stirring: When adding yoghurt, lower the heat or even turn it off temporarily. Stir the yoghurt gently into the dish to distribute it evenly without agitating it too much. Avoid vigorous stirring, which can cause the yoghurt to break or separate.

By following these steps, you can successfully integrate curd into your dishes without worrying about it breaking or curdling. Enjoy the creamy and tangy goodness that yoghurt adds to your culinary creations!

Bottle Gourd (Lauki) & Pumpkin

Amidst the current surge in tomato prices, it's time to give kaddu (pumpkin) and bottle gourd a well-deserved spotlight at the dinner table. 

Bottle gourd, or lauki, is a vegetable widely used in Indian cooking due to its mild taste and versatility. It can be cooked in various ways and used as a base for curries, soups, and stews. When cooked down, bottle gourd develops a soft and slightly sweet flavour, which can be balanced with other spices and herbs to create delicious dishes without relying on tomatoes.

For years, pumpkins have been overlooked as a viable alternative to tomatoes, but their affordability and unique attributes make them an excellent substitute, especially in puree form. Not only are pumpkins nearly half the cost of tomatoes, but they also offer a delightful natural sweetness and a creamy texture that can elevate your dishes to new heights.

While tomatoes have long been the go-to ingredient for creating flavorful purees, pumpkin puree can work wonders in various recipes. The process of making pumpkin puree is relatively simple and can be done at home. Start by peeling and removing the seeds from a fresh pumpkin. Cut it into small cubes and steam or boil until tender. Once cooked, blend the pumpkin cubes into a smooth puree using a food processor or blender. This velvety pumpkin puree can then be used as a substitute for tomato puree in your favourite recipes.

The inherent sweetness of pumpkins adds a unique depth of flavour to dishes, balancing the acidity that tomatoes bring. Whether you're preparing curries, soups, stews, or sauces, pumpkin puree can seamlessly replace tomato puree, creating a rich and satisfying base. Its creamy texture enhances the overall mouthfeel of the dish, providing a velvety and luxurious experience.

One of the greatest advantages of using pumpkin puree is its cost-effectiveness. With tomato prices soaring, opting for pumpkin allows you to enjoy similar flavours without straining your budget. Pumpkins are widely available in local markets, especially during summer - monsoon season. 

Additionally, pumpkins bring their own nutritional benefits to the table. They are a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as fibre, making them a wholesome addition to your meals. By incorporating pumpkin puree into your dishes, you not only diversify your culinary repertoire but also boost the nutritional value of your creations.

So, let's embrace the versatility of pumpkins and give them the attention they deserve. Experiment with pumpkin puree as a tomato substitute, and discover a world of flavours and textures that can elevate your dishes while keeping your wallet happy. The current tomato price hike might just be the push we need to rediscover the wonders of kaddu in Indian cuisine.

While tomatoes have traditionally played a significant role in Indian cuisine, there are numerous alternatives that can be used to achieve similar flavours and textures. Tamarind, raw mango, kokum, amchur, yoghurt, and bottle gourd are just a few examples of tomato alternatives available in Indian cooking. By embracing these alternatives, you can continue to enjoy the rich and diverse flavours of Indian cuisine without worrying about the high prices of tomatoes. So, experiment with these options to create delicious meals that are both budget-friendly and satisfying!

Happy experimenting!

Neerja Bhatnagar

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