Amchur powder (sometimes spelled amchoor) is a spice commonly used in Indian cooking to add a citrusy flavoring to foods like pakora and samosas. It’s made from dried, unripe green mangoes that have been crushed into a fine powder. In traditional Indian cooking, amchur powder provided the nutritional content of a citrus fruit throughout the months when mangoes were not in season. Today amchur powder (also known as mango powder) serves three primary purposes in recipes:
Sour, tangy flavor
Obviously, like the mangoes it’s derived from, amchur powder lends a citrusy, tangy and somewhat tart flavor to a dish.
Souring chemically and physically alters food and changes its flavor profile by exposing it to an acid. The process of souring is similar to fermenting or pickling but the reaction takes place in minutes instead of days or weeks.
The mango fruit enzymes break down meat proteins easily to tenderize tougher cuts of meat for melt in your mouth results.
Unfortunately, amchur powder is hard to find within the United States except at specialty Indian grocers because it’s still relatively unknown and uncommonly used outside of Indian cooking. There are several substitutes that will be easier to find in US grocery stores while matching the amchur’s unique properties and not seeming out of place in an Indian dish.
Best Amchur Substitutes
An ideal substitute for amchur would be citrusy but otherwise neutral in flavor, work as an enzymatic tenderizer and souring agent and be widely available in US grocery stores. Not every option on this list can check all of these boxes but most come close.
Lime or Lemon Juice
Available at any grocery store and provides a strong citrus tang to any dish and acts as a powerful souring agent. Lemon juice is a staple of Indian cooking and will fit in with any dish. However, Amchur is notable for providing the citrus flavoring without adding moisture to a dish– something a citrus juice cannot do. Lemon or lime juice can not be used in dry spice mixes like chaat masala. These juices are also susceptible to degrading and may not be the best option for cooks looking to store and reheat leftovers. You could always also use crystalized lemon juice powder like this one, which might be easier to incorporate into recipes.
Citric Acid Powder
A close match that provides both the citrus flavoring and doesn’t add moisture. Citric acid powder can even be used as an amchur substitute in spice mixes like chaat masala by grinding the powder crystals to better match the consistency of amchur and the other spices in the mixture. I personally try to avoid using citric acid powder in my cooking as it can be allergenic. If you opt for this as a substitute I recommend looking for a powder brand that is naturally derived from a citrus fruit or even making it yourself. This one from Frontier Co-op is derived from non-GMO corn.
Tamarind Paste or Powder
A great option if you can find it. Tamarind paste is made from the pulp of fruit from the tamarind tree indigenous to tropical Africa. It’s sweet and sour flavor compares well with amchur and is another staple of Indian cooking.
Rice Wine Vinegar
Vinegar is not commonly used in Indian cuisine but rice wine vinegar is milder, less acidic and sweeter than white vinegar and less likely to stand out as an alien ingredient.
Unripe Green Mangoes
Actual green mangoes are much easier to locate in the United States than its powder derivative. Choosing unripe green mangoes at the grocery store and then using them either chopped or pureed in your dish would be a close match. As with the lemon/ lime juice, this option will create more moisture than the powder and will not work in a spice mix. If you want to take the extra step, you could use your unripe green mangoes to make amchur powder yourself.
Are amchur powder and chaat masala same?
Not exactly– Amchur powder is one ingredient used in the chaat masala spice powder. Chaat masala usually also includes some combination of cumin, coriander, dried ginger, salt, black pepper, chili powder and asafoetida.