As the scorching heat of summer dawns upon the subcontinent, a tropical fruit suddenly scales in significance. It’s not mango that we are talking about here. A plum-sized fruit of the garcinia indica tree, reddish-purple in colour, kokum is indigenous to the western coastal regions of India, and is heralded for its cooling properties and multiple other benefits.
Kokum resembles its South East Asian sibling mangosteen in appearance and consists of a slightly tangy and fleshy rind, a pulpy fruit and seeds at the core. Each part of kokum is used generously by masterchefs and home cooks to craft out a variety of foods and beverages.
Once ripe, kokum is hand-picked by farmers, and the rind is separated from the fruit to be dried and used as thin dark purple-hued strips while making thick coconut-based fish and vegetable curries, or in the grounded form in chutneys. Much like tamarind, the kokum rind is used as a souring agent in Indian cooking. The rind bears a cooling effect on the body, increases hydration, quenches thirst and protects against sunstroke. It also promotes weight loss in a healthy manner, when combined with a proper diet and exercise. This is because upto 20-30% of the rind comprises hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which increases metabolism and the energy levels in the body. For a quick beverage, soak a handful of kokum rinds for a few hours in a glass of water. Squeeze the rinds to release the extract, add a spoon of honey, or a dash of sugar, and voila…a summer cooler is ready! Another popular beverage concocted from the rind is the solkadhi, a fuchsia toned drink which aids in digestion. The Solkadhi is a perfect blend of kokum rinds with coconut milk, and spices like cumin seeds and chillies.
The pulpy white fruit, with a highly sour flavour profile, is soaked in sugar syrup to churn out the cooling red wine hued Kokum sherbet. The fruit is an excellent source of antioxidants and helps to combat flatulence, constipation, and inflammation.
No part of kokum is ever wasted and along with the rind and the fruit, kokum seeds are utilised efficiently, albeit for cosmetic purposes. The seeds contain about 40% of essential oils, and are transformed into kokum butter, a raw, unprocessed, soothing skin ointment that prevents the cracking of heals, moisturises the skin and cures cuts and rashes.
With its numerous benefits and applications, Kokum is certainly a star attraction in the summers!