Konkan's Favourite Flavouring Agent
KOKUM has no English name, because it is native to India, and even in India, it is a stranger anywhere outside the Konkan region and some parts of Gujarat. Which is surprising, because kokum makes an extremely cooling drink in summer, and its uses in cooking as a flavouring agent have chefs of the South and West swearing by it.
Kokum grows in Malvan along the ribbon-like west coast of India. This area is part of the Konkan region, and it is an area dominated by a cuisine known for its dependence on coconut. Kokum enhances coconut-based curries and when added to vegetables like bhendi, potatoes and lentils, brings a zesty tartish taste to the food.
The kokum fruit, which grows on a slender evergreen tree, is round and about 2.5 cm in diametre. It is deep purple when ripe and contains about eight large seeds. The fruit is picked, the rind removed, then soaked in the juice of the pulp and sun-dried. It is this rind that is used as a flavouring agent.
In appearance, kokum is dark purple to black, and it is a sticky fruit with curled edges. When added to food, it not only imparts a rich pinkish-purple colour to the dish, but also a sweet-sour taste, and a fruity smell. Since it colours everything it touches, many chefs wanting to preserve the colour of a dish, use lemon instead.
Kokum is commercially sold in cities as a dried rind. It can be bought and kept in air-tight jars for upto a year. But along the coast, and especially in the Konkan region, it is also available as a fruit. The rule in buying it is deeper the colour of the kokum, the better will be its culinary use.