Tomatoes are a beloved ingredient in any Indian dish and feature prominently in curries, sabzis and gravies. An article published by Mint on 2 July, titled Why Indians are seeing red over tomato prices, reported that the cost of tomatoes has risen since the beginning of June and in some cities, has doubled or tripled. For example, in Ahmedabad, prices rose from ₹22 per kg on 1 June to ₹80 per kg on 27 June, which is an increase of 264%. In Delhi, prices increased by 186% and in Bengaluru by 185%.
On Twitter, investment advisor Aditya Shah (@AdityaD_Shah) shared a tweet that said Mcdonald's in Delhi would not be able to serve burgers with tomatoes due to quality issues, and hypothesized that this could be an outcome of the produce getting more expensive.
🚨Mcdonalds,Delhi put up this notice!— Aditya Shah (@AdityaD_Shah) July 7, 2023
Even Mcdonalds cannot afford tomatoes now!😂😂 pic.twitter.com/cn1LkoQruf
During such times, home cooks can substitute tomatoes with other ingredients with little compromise on flavour.
“Tomatoes were not native to India but were introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Before that, (perhaps) yoghurt was used to give a sour flavour to curries and would be used to marinate meat too,” says executive chef Simran Singh Thapar of The Leela Palace, Bengaluru. He recommends adding yoghurt to dishes that require souring agents to achieve a better flavour. Furthermore, a little yoghurt does the job that a lot of tomatoes would require, making it more practical. However, for dishes that need tomatoes to complete the flavour profile of the dish, like a makhani gravy, he recommends that alternatives should not be used.
Digital content creator and chef Sanjyot Keer, founder of the food YouTube channel Your Food Lab, suggests using packaged tomato purée. These are usually priced similarly throughout the year and will give a similar texture and flavour profile as tomatoes, he said in an email interview. Like Thapar, he recommends using yoghurt, but mixed with some red chilli powder or onions as an alternative. A bit of tomato ketchup in addition to the yoghurt works well too.
Finally, executive chef Jatinder Pal Singh of the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel and Convention Center suggests using tamarind paste or pulp in sauces, chutneys, and marinades to add sourness to any dish. Like tamarind, there are several souring agents that are prevalent in regional cuisines.
An article published by Mint Lounge in 2020 titled Sour bombs of the Indian kitchen goes into detail about these ingredients, such as Bengali amchur, Maharashtrian ambat chuka or green sorrel, and Assamese thekera, a cousin of purple mangosteen. These ingredients can also be used as replacements for tomatoes when adding acidity and a touch of sourness to a curry or a gravy.