Amba sauce is the golden trophy of the Middle East’s food scene.
So, what is amba sauce, anyway?
Amba sauce is a yellow colored condiment you can find all over the Middle East– just about every sandwich shop, schwarma stand, and falafel cart has a full supply of this golden yellow sauce that has no connection to our western mustard. The word “Amba” in Sanskrit means literally translates to mango. It made its way to the Middle East on the Silk Road north and west, starting about 114 BCE. When the sauce made of tropical mangoes reached Iraq it quickly became a staple of indigenous Iraqi cuisine. It has since become very popular all over the Middle East and you can find it almost in every place Middle Eastern foods are made and sold.
What is amba sauce made from?
Amba sauce is made out of pickled mangoes mixed with another sauce called Hilbeh, which is a sauce made out of fenugreek leaves. These fenugreek leaves are common all around the Middle East, and it’s presumed that the tropical mangoes were mixed with fenugreek for practicality purposes when they hit the region that is now Iraq. The pickling process for mangoes is pretty simple– using any ripe mangoes you then dissolve sugar, salt, vinegar and peppercorns, and mix in turmeric (that turns it yellow). Turmeric not only has enormous health benefits, but offers a gingeresque taste and bright yellow color that is unmatched by any other spice or herbal addition.
If you take out the turmeric you get plain pickled mangoes, without the vibrant color or ginger undertones. If you’ve never tried pickled mangoes before, they’re very tangy, sweet and sour and delicious. Fenugreek comes in two modern ways– either a powder that is ground from the seeds, or in a leaf form which is mixed into the powder to give it more body. There are a couple of ways to prepare amba, either to buy it ready made from the store, you can also buy it in a powder form, or make it yourself.
What are the best uses for amba sauce?
You can put amba sauce on almost any type of protein. It’s common to top schwarma, a pita pocket brimming with falafel balls, grilled meats, or even fried vegetarian protein sources like tofu.
It’s a great alternative to dips and sauces like ketchup, because the sauce is loaded with vitamins A and C (thanks to the mangoes), and turmeric is known to fight cellular free radical damage like no other. The salt content in this sauce is rather high though, so people watching their sodium intake are advised to eat with delicious caution.
You’re an educated person of the world now, so be sure to turn your next falafel into a golden trophy of the Middle East’s food scene.