What is Kokum?

February 16, 2008

The then NY Times food critic, Ruth Reichl (Garlic and Sapphires) was on one of her visits to the New York restaurant, Lespinasse. One of the dishes she sampled was a Braised salmon and crisped Artichoke with a syrah wine reduction. It looked familiar – a fat slice of salmon on a bed of crispy fried strips of artichoke in a deep purple sauce, garnished with bread crumbs and chervil. However, there was an unusual element in it that escaped her. So she asked the waiter, and what she learnt was a new ingredient – Kokum.


Only after reading this, did I realise the exotic value of this local ingredient. The kokum lying at the back of my pantry earned a new found respect from me. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved kokum in my food, but simply took it for granted until now.

Photograph sourced from Wikipedia.


So what is kokum? Kokum is native to the Southern regions of India and it didn’t quite go places, that’s why there is no English name for the fruit! The dried kokum that is used to flavour foods is usually purplish black in colour; the darker the colour, the better the kokum. After the fruit is picked, the rind is removed and then soaked in the juice of the pulp and sun-dried. Sometimes a good quantity of salt is used to speed up the drying process.

Kokum is sometimes confused with mangosteen fruit. They are similar only till the point of belonging to the same family – The genus Garcinia which itself has under its wing over 435 species! The binomial name for Kokum is Garcinia Indica and that of Mangosteen is Garcinia mangostana.

And how is it used? This tart fruit is used to add a sour twist, quite like the tamarind; to dishes hot and cold – be it coconut based curries, dals, chutneys, vegetables or pickles. My favourites being Goan Fish Curry from my Grandma’s kitchen, Sindhi curry and a refreshing drink made from kokum. Thinking of the drink, I fondly remember the summers I used to make Kokum Sherbet for my family, I was probably 10 or 12 then. Everyone enjoyed the refreshing drink. :) It may be February now, but you don’t have to wait for the summer to down this drink, because this fruit can reduce fat, purify blood, aid in digestion and also reduce cholesterol!

Kokum Sherbet

100g Kokum

A pinch, Asafoetida
Salt, to taste

6 tablespoon jaggery or brown sugar
4 slit green chillies
3 tablespoon parsley, chopped
3 cups of water

In a pitcher add water and all the ingredients except the parsley. Let it rest for about 6-8 hours in the refrigerator. And if you want it speed it up, you could soak it warm water.

Large quantities of this sherbet are consumed in the coastal regions of southwest India to beat the sweltering heat. You can also buy yourself a bottle of the syrup that requires just the addition of water. You could even drop in a tea bag and make a different kind of iced tea!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Minti February 17, 2008 at 9:10 PM

Ah yes – delicious.

I like solkadi too (I use very thin coconut milk to try to reduce those calories) – that tang kokam imparts is something else.

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2 Zen Chef February 18, 2008 at 2:10 AM

I’m intrigued by this kokum. I heard of it but i never actually cooked with it. I want to get my hands on some and try your recipe. :-)

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3 Shaheen February 18, 2008 at 1:00 PM

Minti: Oh I like sol kadi too! With a nice tempering too it and lots of chopped parsley.

Zen Chef: This is like minti says, something quite different.

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4 We Are Never Full April 23, 2008 at 7:21 PM

very, very interesting. never heard of this. i absolutely love learning about new foods. this was an mind-opening post!! thanks!

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5 Sameer July 3, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Can Kokum be used to make tobacco???

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6 anushree April 21, 2014 at 8:36 PM

I am from goa,so have had kokam all my life in fish curries, solkadi and other recipes. Its a must for us Goans after eating so much fish and seafood, coconut based foods an curries, that kokam acts in aiding digestion and lowers cholesterol. Kokam trees are pretty tall that you have to collect fallen fruits and are usually common on goan cliffs and hillocks or river banks. We use fresh kokam pulp in summer drinks and dried kokam is used as a souring agent in curries and vegetables. The famous “sol kadi” has medicinal properties of weigh loss and lower cholestrol levels.

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