Amchoor, sometimes spelt ‘Amchur’, is a spice made from unripe mangoes that are dried and then ground to a powder. It is used throughout south and south-east Asia but is particularly associated with Indian cookery. It is a little surprising that the powder has not been very widely embraced in the west, since the fresh fruit is fairly widely recognized, but it is a very nice and useful addition to the spice cabinet…
Appearance and Taste
As you can see in the initial photograph, the spice is a rather non-descript beige colored powder. There is not a very strong aroma by any means. Some have described as being somewhat honey-like, but I find it more like maple syrup, or the sweetish, faintly maple quality of Fenugreek seed. The taste, on the other hand is more assertive with a definite tart fruitiness coupled with an underlying sweet warmth. Personally, unless knowing the origin of the powder, I would be hard-pressed to identify it as being made from mango. There is, as I say, a fruity quality, but it is composed of very generic and vague high-notes only.
In Indian cookery, Amchoor is used to add a tart flavor to many foods much in the same way as Tamarind. It is added to many curries and soups and is very widely used in pickles and chutneys. The powder is sometimes used alone, being sprinkled on cooked vegetables or raw fruit, but one of its most common employments is in the spice blend known as ‘Chaat Masala’, which I will be looking at in some depth in an upcoming post fairly soon.
Amchoor, as does the fresh fruit, is also known to have a meat-tenderizing quality as well as being added for its flavor. It is not as strong as papaya in this regard but the tenderizing quality is more pronounced than lemon or lime juice (up to three times stronger according to some estimates) and this should be born in mind when adding the spice to marinades for very delicate foods like shrimp, for example, whose textural quality can be degraded by over enthusiastic marinating.
If you would like to try this spice out for the first time, you can try adding some to yoghurt as a dip for fruit or vegetables, or even add a pinch to mashed potatoes. Some time ago, I made a mental note of an interesting use of the powder I came across somewhere on the net. I forget where it was exactly (it was a forum, rather than a blog as I recall), nor do I recall all the details, but the following experiment approximates what I saw and is well worth trying:
Basically, I just butterflied some shrimp (about 8 medium-sized ones) and then dusted them with a mixture of 1 tbsp. of Amchoor, 2 tbsp. of cornstarch, a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper. I then deep-fried them immediately and served them hot.
My wife actually said they were about the nicest shrimp she had ever had (although that may have been that she was very hungry), but I liked them very much as well. Probably, in future versions, I would jazz the spice blend up a little, but doing it this way will give you some idea of the taste of Amchoor alone.
On a closing note, you can, I gather, make the powder quite easily at home using a food-dehydrator and then grinding dried mango slices. I haven’t tried this myself as yet as it requires the unripe fruit which I have not seen in our stores, but, when and if I do, I will certainly share the results with you…