Kokum (Garcinia indica) called as the ‘The Kool King’ of Indian fruits flourishes in the dense forests of the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. Konkan Kokum is a perennial fruit of commercial value that thrives in the scenic Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts.
According to the locals, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts have about 43,000 centuries-old kokum trees that have grown exceptionally well in the natural forest habitat. As the Konkan region enjoys monopoly with respect to the production of kokum fruits (70 percent from Sindhudurg and 30 percent from Ratnagiri), farmers have started planting kokum trees under the shade of coconut and arecanut trees in their gardens.
Kokum is considered to be a wonder fruit by the locals and two special varieties namely Konkan Hatis and Konkan Amruta besides the natural variety are grown in this region. Kokum known to be a ‘zero attention crop’ is grown organically in this belt under favourable agro-climatic conditions.
Kokum is called a kalpavriksha as all parts are useful. Green unripe fruits are cut into longitudinal halves keeping the seed intact and sun-dried. This is called as lonawale kokum by the Gujaratis and used in curries for its fresh tangy flavour.
The kernels of kokum seed contain about 33 – 44 percent oil which is commercially known as kokum butter. It was used as edible oil earlier by the Konkani community to prepare certain dishes on fasting days. Now, it is used to make delicious cocoa chocolates in Ratnagiri which are far more cost effective as compared to cocoa butter. It is also used as a substitute for ghee and as confectionery butter. Kokum butter is used by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry in the preparation of lotions, lip balms and soaps and is said to reduce the degeneration of skin cells and restore elasticity. It is used to make candles as well.
Dried kokum rind called amsol is also very popular. The ripe fruits are cut and deseeded. Juice is extracted from the pulp and salt is added to it. The rind is soaked in the juice and sun-dried. This dip and dry process is repeated for 7 – 8 days. It is used in the culinary preparations in both Maharashtra and Goa. Amsol is used to treat skin boils and allergies as well. The rind of kokum fruit is a valuable source of natural red pigment to the tune of 2.5 percent which is the highest in the plant kingdom.
Kokum has a tangy taste and very often used in Konkani preparations to enhance the coconut-based curries, fish curries, chutneys, pickles and others.
The most common use of the tasty kokum is the sherbet that is very popular in the hot summer. Sherbet is made from soft kokum that is deep purple in colour. The dried fruit is soaked and mashed and then, sugar syrup, black salt and roasted cumin powder are added to it. This is a cool refreshing drink known to reduce sunstroke and prevent dehydration.
Besides sherbet, kokum is used to make solkadi, syrup, ketchup, soup, agal and muthali. This rejuvenating fruit with multitude of uses was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2016.
Kokum also known in Sanskrit as vrikshamia, amlabija and amlapura has been used in Ayurveda to cure digestive ailments, gastric problems, fever and other illnesses and is now gaining popularity in the Western countries as an appetite suppressant and a weight loss aid. Kokum fruits are packed with antioxidants and have exhibited anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. Some research has encouraged the extraction of Hydroxycitric acid from the rind of the kokum fruit.
As all parts of the kokum tree are useful and need to be processed, awareness of the medicinal and healing properties of kokum and value-added products will generate employment opportunities in the rural area and help in earning foreign exchange through export.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)