What is Kokum?
The kokum is native to the western coastal regions of southern India and is rarely seen beyond this area. Even in India it is used only in the regional cuisines of Gujarat Maharashrta and several southern states where large glasses of kokum sherbet are downed during parched summer months. In this region the sweltering heat demands refrigerant (cooling) ingredients in food and drink. Kokum is well known to counteract the heat.
Kokum s often halved and dried, so that the dried seeds are visible like citrus fruit. It is usually sold as a dried rind, dark purple to black, sticky and with curled edges. When added to food it adds a pinkish purple colour and sweet/sour taste.
Bouquet: slightly sweet and sour aroma.
Flavour: a refreshing sour taste, slightly astringent
Hotness Scale: 1
Preparation and Storage
Similar to tamarind, kokum skins are usually available as dried rind or fruit, and infused in hot water. The deeper the colour the better the kokum. It will keep in an airtight jar for about a year.
Culinary Uses of Kokum
Kokum has the same souring qualities as tamarind, especially enhancing coconut-based curries or vegetable dishes like potatoes, okra or lentils. Kokum is especially used with fish curries, three or four skins being enough to season an average dish. It is also included in chutneys and pickles.
The skins are not usually chopped but are added whole to the dish. Kokum petals can be very strong, so just add a few at a time. It takes a little stewing in the gravy for their sourness to release, so you don’t want to add too many and then the dish be too sour after an hour. Seasoning should be checked as they are quite salty. Beware of biting on a stone as a few are often left in the skins.
Kokum Health Benefits
As mentioned in the introduction, kokum’s refrigerant properties are well known. It is useful as an infusion, or by direct application, in skin ailments such as rashes caused by allergies. Kokum butter is an emollient helpful in the treatment of burns, scalds and chaffed skin. The fruits are steeped in sugar syrup to make amrutkokum which is drunk to relieve sunstroke.
Kokum is used in case of flatulence. The fruit is useful for treatment of piles, dysentery, tumours, pains and heart complaints. Its juice is effective against allergies due to insect bites, sun exposure related symptoms as well as acidity. It also has shown anti-carcinogenic properties.
Plant Description and Cultivation
Kokum is a tropical evergreen tree, related to the mangosteens. A slender tree with sloping branches, it reaches heights of 15m (50 ft). The thin bark is lined and the leaves oblong. The dark purple fruit is round, about 4 cm (1 1/2 in) in diameter with 5 – 8 seeds. The fruits are picked when ripe, the rind is then removed and soaked in the juice of the pulp and then sun-dried. The kokum is difficult to cultivate, usually growing as solitary trees in a tropical forest environment.
black kokum, cocum, kokam, kokum butter tree, mangosteen oil tree
German: Kokam Italian: cocum
Indian: kokam, kokum
Photo by Badagnani / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)