By: Nutrition Expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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Kokum (Garcinia indica Choisy) is one of the native underexploited tree spice. It is mostly found in Konkan region of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Surat district of Gujarat on the West Coast of India and to some extent in the forests of Assam, Meghalaya, West Bengal. In spite of its incredible medicinal and nutritive properties, kokum is generally not cultivated systematically on orchard scale like that of mango, cashew nut etc. It is mostly found as a kitchen garden plant or mixed crop in plantations of coconut, areca nut, as roadside plants or in forest.
Kokum is a tropical evergreen tree, related to the mangosteens. The fruits are picked when ripe, the rind is then removed and soaked in the juice of the pulp and then sun-dried. Ripe kokum fruits harvested during April-May from a region/ locality and pool the produce at one point for processing. Value added products like salted juice (agal), syrup (amrut) or dried rind are prepared.
Well known these tangy, Green/Reddish berries, Kokum fruit consist of 3 major parts:
- The Kokum Pericarp – which is the rind or peel and contains the highest level of xanthones.
- The pulp – which is the fruit and is known for being one of the tastiest fruits in the world.
- The seeds – found within the white pulp.
Therapeutic properties of Kokum:
- Kokum fruit contains compounds that have antioxidant, anti-bacterial and antifungal properties.
- Scientific research indicates activity against several cancer cell lines, including breast cancer, liver cancer and leukaemia.
- In addition, Kokum also exhibits antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Traditionally, Kokum has been used for many years as a medicinal treatment for diarrhoea, skin infection and wounds in throughout South Asia.
- The fruits contain citric acid, acetic acid, malic acid, ascorbic acid, hydroxycitric acid and garcinol.
- Kokum juice is especially popular during scorching summer months as it has a cooling effect on the body and shields the body against dehydration and sunstroke. It also helps in bringing down fever and allergic reactions.
- Extracts from the Kokum fruit are traditionally used to relieve gastric problems like acidity, flatulence, constipation and indigestion.
- Kokum juice is a healthier and far more refreshing option as compared to commercial bottled drinks. It acts as an appetite stimulant and also has anti-helmintic properties.
- Ayurvedic medicine also uses Kokum infusions to treat piles, dysentery and infections. Kokum is known to strengthen the cardio-vascular system and stabilize liver function.
- The hydroxycitric acid present in the fruit fights cholesterol and curbs lipogenesis, thus aiding weight loss.
- One of the ingredients of kokum, hydroxycitric acid (HCA), has been patented for use as an hypocholesterolaemic agent. HCA is a potential anti-obesity agent. It suppresses fatty acid synthesis, lipogenesis, food intake and induces weight loss.
- Garcinol, a polyisoprenylated benzophenone purified from kokum fruit rind, displays antioxidant, anti-cancer and anti-ulcer properties.
- Apart from HCA and garcinol, kokum contains other compounds with potential antioxidant properties. These include citric acid, malic acid, polyphenols, carbohydrates1,3, anthocyanin pigments and ascorbic acid.
How to use?
- The most popular dish prepared with fresh kokum is the Sol-kadhi or Soul Curry. A sweet, spicy and sour drink with mustard seasoning. As kokum has cooling effects on the body, this is the perfect drink for hot summers.
- Bottled/canned kokum syrup juice or agal is available in many shops in Goa which acts as replacement for the fresh fruit to make the kadhi.
- Another version that is very popular is sol kadhi, prepared with fresh coconut milk.
- Tetra packs of kokum juice and carbonate kokum soda is now readily available.
- The skin of the fruit – which is normally sold as ‘kokum’ is sun dried in large quantities to be used when the fresh kokum is not available.
- Some salt crystals are added to the dried kokum, which acts as a preservative. As days pass, the dark purple skin turns black. When soaked in water for some time, the skin leaves beautiful purple colour. This has many medicinal properties.
- The skin is soaked in water for some time and the purple coloured water is given to the patients suffering from ‘pitta‘.
- Sometimes the fruit is mixed with sugar and sun dried. The juice that comes out of it is preserved to make kokum juice.
- The seeds are sun dried to make kokum butter (bhirndel tel). The outer black shells of the seeds are peeled and the inner white coloured seeds are chopped and ground into fine paste. Then they are cooked and dried to get the butter.
- The butter retains its solid shape at room temperature. When needed, it is held near a flame to melt it. This melted oil is applied to cracked heels and dried skin, which acts as a very effective moisturizer. Before we were introduced to different moisturizer brands, it was used as a moisturizer. Even now, it is frequently used for cracked heels.
Kokum fruit can be viewed as a wonder berry that has a pleasant, tangy-sweet taste and a myriad of health benefits.