Kokum: A Powerful Souring Agent

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Kokum refers to the fruit from one of the most important spice trees in India’s Western Ghats; however, it is not well known in other parts of India and virtually unknown outside of the Subcontinent. For example, very few Indians in the northern and eastern parts of the country have even heard of kokum.

The kokum tree is used mainly as an ornamental and grows widely in Maharashtra, Goa and in Gujurat. Kokum belongs to the mangosteen family. The outer rind of the fruit is the part that gets used as a spice.

Kokum has a long history in India both as a culinary ingredient and as medicine. Practitioners of Ayurveda considered it an important treatment for a range of illnesses including gastric conditions, heat exposure, and fever. It is used topically as well — it can treat sores and dermatitis.

Kokum is not widely cultivated. Most of the trees are wild in forests and wastelands. The few trees that are cultivated are grown on a very small scale in homestead gardens and cashew farms. Kokum cultivation does not require irrigation or the use of pesticides.

The botanical name of kokum is Garcinia indica. In India, it goes by various names including bindin and katambi.

Kokum continues to be used in some parts of India for its medicinal benefits.

Kokum flavor profile

Kokum has a juicy texture that you will find among other plants in the mangosteen family. It is extremely tart with a metallic flavor in the background.

Health benefits of kokum

Kokum’s reputation as a health booster comes from the fact that it contains compounds like:

  • Garcinol: Garcinol is responsible for most of the kokum fruit’s health benefits. It has antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
  • Hydroxycitric acid: The pigment responsible for the fruit’s purplish color contains hydroxy citric acid, which is believed to have significant effects on fat and cholesterol.
  • Minerals: Kokum is a rich source of important minerals like potassium and magnesium.

Kokum is an effective treatment and preventive supplement when used for conditions like:

  • Gastric ulcers: The antibacterial properties of kokum make it effective against the H. pylori bacteria that cause ulcers.
  • Inflammatory conditions: Because of the antioxidant effects of garcinol, kokum works for suppressing inflammation and inflammatory diseases like heart disease.
  • Obesity: The hydroxy citric acid in kokum may help to fight the formation of fat. It is also believed to act as an appetite suppressant.
  • High cholesterol: The garcinol and hydroxy citric acid in kokum enable it to lower levels of LDL cholesterol, which is the bad cholesterol. It is also said to increase HDL levels. HDL is considered good cholesterol.
  • Depression: Hydroxycitric acid helps to increase serotonin, which combats depression.

Common uses

Kokum shows up in dishes from the Konkan region of Maharashtra. It is rarely ever consumed raw. Its tartness is used to enhance both curries and beverages. Kokum is also a staple spice in Goan cuisine. In both regions, it is used as a souring agent similar to tamarind or mango powder (amchoor). You will see it used to give dal a tart flavor and in sour fish curry. You can use it to make a kokum syrup that can be diluted and consumed as a sweet but refreshing beverage. It is useful for making sorbets as well.