What is Kokum?
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!
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!