Pampaasim: A Guide to Sinigang Souring AgentsOctober 2, 2019
Everyone enjoys sinigang differently. Yet we can all agree that the best sinigang’s are always the most tart ones. Sampalok (tamarind) is the most common agent to sour your soup—save for sinigang mixes, of course. But with such a diverse variety of produce in the country, we’re spoiled with so many other fruits and vegetables that are up to the task, as well. Here are some of the sinigang souring agents households across the country use for their sinigang.
Balimbing (Star Fruit)
Balimbing (aka star fruit or carambola) is an oval, five-angled fruit abundant in Southeast Asia. Cut across the middle, and you get star-shaped slices—hence, it’s name. Balimbing can also be eaten as is, waxy exterior and all. Ripe yellow fruits are sweet and citrus-y, with a tangy undertone. But unripe green ones are sour, making them great for sinigang. They’re also tougher to eat as is (which people do, with salt), but they soften a bit once boiled.
What sampalok is to Tagalogs, batwan is to Ilonggos. The round, green fruit is a common souring agent in Western Visayas. It’s used not just for sinigang, but for other regional specialties such as KBL, as well. It’s sour, but doesn’t have the same acidity that you’d get from, say, vinegar.
Although some varieties of guava lay on the sweet side, our local ripe bayabas fruits (aka bayabas pangsigang) are tart. They’re used by many to add sourness to sinigang, being widely available in local markets. Filipino restaurant Mesa even has a take on sinigang sa bayabas on their menu, paired with some pineapple for a hint of sweetness.
Kamias is another local fruit noted for its sour flavor. It’s an easy household sinigang souring agent, since many Filipino families (especially outside Metro Manila) grow its trees in their gardens. You can throw in the fruit as your sinigang comes to the boil. But you can also opt to boil it separately, then extract its tart juice, putting that into the soup, instead. Although you can use it for any sinigang, kamias is often used for seafood variations (i.e. fish and shrimp).
We’re all familiar with the tart acidity of pineapples—tasted via pineapples we thought were ripe. And while eating green pineapples are unpleasant by themselves, they actually make pretty good souring agents for sinigang. And we can’t quite explain it (maybe it’s the pineapple wanting to be ripe), but it adds a sort of sweet undertone to the broth.
P.S. We can’t go without mentioning another unripe fruit that’s great in making our sinigang sour: green mangoes.
Of course, a sinigang souring agent list must have the OG: sampalok. Any sinigang lover should know how this works. But in case you don’t—to make a sampalok sinigang broth, start by boiling the pods; then, mash its juices through a strainer. This becomes your base. Now, all you have to do is add water to dilute it. Sampalok as a souring agent is so prevalent that there are sinigang mixes for it. But there’s truly nothing better than using the actual vegetable because you get that natural tartness coupled with a little bit of pulpiness.
Tamarillo is a fairly new discovery here at Pepper. Also called “tree tomato,” the ripe fruit is a red or golden egg-shaped orb. It has a sweet-sour flavor, making it great for both savory and sweet dishes. That said, we think it’s also an interesting alternative to your usual souring agents. It gives off only a slight tartness, but it’s well-balanced with some sweetness to give your broth a complex flavor profile.