I thought it would be apropos to write about a spice I’m sure I’ll be cooking with a lot over the next few weeks! I’m headed to Goa for serious culinary immersion and cannot wait to absorb the cuisines of the area. The food of that region is deliciously complex and inflected by the climate, people, religions, coastal location, Portuguese colonialism, and local produce.
The kokum tree is a tropical tree that grows in this region and that produces a small, dark purple, plum-like fruit. The rind of the fruit is preserved in the sun and is what is called kokum for cooking purposes. In Goan and Malvani cuisine, kokum is used as a souring agent, a lot like tamarind is in other areas.
Most often, kokum is added whole to a braise or a curry to infuse it with its sweet, salty and sour flavor. The dried fruit also can be soaked in warm water and strained to provide a sour liquid. It compliments coconut extremely well and the combination is popular during the summer months in the form of a sherbet. Kokum is also a common ingredient in chutneys and pickles, and I personally have been debating a jam of sorts.
When buying, kokum should be soft and pliable, not hard and brittle. The color should be a deep purple. I like to store mine in an airtight container – it keeps for months that way.