Other Names: Aamsool; black kokam; brindel berry; cocum (French, Italian, Spanish); kokam (German); kokam phool, kokam uppagi, or raktapurka (India).

General Description: Kokam, which resembles a small, dark purple plum, is the fruit of a tropical evergreen tree (Garcinia indica) that grows only in India. This fruit is closely related to the legendary mangosteen fruit. The dried, very dark purple, flattened rind is rather sticky and has curled edges and a fruity, balsamic aroma with tannic notes. Its flavor is sharp, acidic, and salty, with refreshing dried-fruit sweetness. Kokam fruits are harvested when ripe, and it is usually the rind, comprising about 50 percent of the whole, that is preserved, by drying in the sun. Sometimes the entire fruit is halved and dried so that the dried seeds are visible in their chambers. Salt may be rubbed onto the rind to speed up drying and help with preserving the leathery pieces.

Kokam is used in India as a souring agent like tamarind or amchur. Big glasses of kokam sharbat (a cold beverage) are drunk to counteract the blazing heat. Kokam butter, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking in some regions; it’s sold in pale gray or yellow slabs. The closely related asam gelugor, or fish tamarind (G. atroviridis), is traditionally eaten with fatty foods to prevent weight gain and is rubbed on fatty meats to dissolve the fat in dishes such as the rendang of Sumatra.

Purchase and Avoid: Kokam is sold whole or in small leathery pieces. The deeper the color, the better the quality. Look for kokam at Indian markets and buy in small quantities, as the soft, pliable rinds dry out and lose their flavor. Any crystallized white powder is likely the result of excess salt used in the drying process.

Storage: Store in an airtight jar.

Note: Before using, rinse kokam under cold water to remove excess salt. Kokam will color everything it touches, imparting a beautiful pinkish purple color to foods. It will also stain your clothes, so handle with care.

Serving Suggestions: Add 3 or 4 whole dried kokam skins to an average-sized dish of coconut-based fish or shrimp curry.

Food Affinities: Asafetida, coriander, cumin, fish curry, ginger, lentils, okra, potato, shrimp, tomato, turmeric.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com