It is both tart and astringent in taste. In the southern states of India, it is used to sour food, as vinegar or lemon juice would be elsewhere.
It gives dishes a pinky purple colour.
When the skins are used in a dish, they are usually left whole. Watch for hard seeds still attached to them when you bite down.
The fruit comes from a tree also called Kokum. It is a tropical evergreen tree that grows up to 50 feet (15 metres) tall. The fruit is small, bright red, just about 1 ½ inches (4 cm) wide, with 5 to 8 seeds in it.. The fruit is allowed to ripen fully, to dark purple then to black, before picking. Harvesting starts in late April, and continues for about 6 weeks until early June.
The fruit is often halved before drying. When dried, it will be black and curly, and its edges will have curled up. If halved, you’ll see the seeds inside. It is also available as just dried skins. When being harvested just for the skins, the skin is removed, the fruit is juiced, the skins are soaked in the juice, and then sun-dried.
The darker the colour, the fresher it is.
Kokum is used a lot with fish curries. Three to four skins are usually called for per dish. Kokum can be salty, so don’t add further salt until after you’ve added these and tasted.
The sour juice is also used for soft drinks in summer in Maharashtra, with lots of sugar, sometimes flavoured with cumin seed. It is also used in pickled items and chutneys.
Kokum Butter is pressed from the seeds. It makes a semi-solid vegetable fat that is processed until it is white and has almost no smell. It is very stable at room temperature. It is not edible, but is used for cosmetics. It can also be processed so that it can be used as a substitute for cocoa butter.
Simmer fruit or peel for 8 to 10 minutes, let cool, then strain out the fruit and discard. Use the liquid.
Lime juice, tamarind paste (1 teaspoon of paste for each peel called for in the recipe)
1 oz (30g) = 4 tablespoons
Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to a year.
Kokum is native to southern India’s western coast, particularly Maharashtra State.
Called “Asem Candis” in Western Sumatra, Indonesia.