I scribbled using chalk on a tiny board in Maharashtra, India; there was a list of products offered at the restaurant I ate at for refuge from the oppressive midday heat.

The blackboard said.

The deep color of the red sherbet (a traditional Indian drink made from spices and fruits) nearly immediately removed me from my fatigue and thirst. My drink was made of the fruits of kokum, which is a tropical evergreen tree belonging to the mangosteen family. It’s native to Konkan, the western coast of the land that extends from Maharashtra up to states like Goa and Karnataka.

An essential ingredient in local cuisine due to its acidic qualities, kokum is to Konkan like tamarind, sweet and sour, for the Southern states of India. However, in addition to giving the most delicious tangy taste and the ability to rehydrate, drinks such as sherbet ( See the recipe below. ) have been used for centuries to prevent heatstroke at low. Using this traditional wisdom may provide an energizing and healthy option to fight the ills of the present rash of heatwaves across the globe. 


“For centuries, the tribal communities have used agal, or the extract from the [kokum] fruit, as a souring and colouring agent in curries, gravies and fish preparations,” noted Food expert Kurush Dalal. “They have also utilised it for medicinal properties.”

According to Ayurveda, India’s oldest natural system of treatment derived from the Sanskrit words Ayur (life) and Veda (knowledge), The kokum berry has numerous health and medicinal benefits. It is a treasure trove of antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, and B-complex vitamins, as well as potassium and magnesium. The kokum fruit can be utilized as a digestive tonic or to treat flatulence, diarrhea and sores, and skin eruptions.

While widely used by the local population, kokum is grown but on a tiny scale (Credit Dinodia Photos/Alamy)

“It is traditionally also considered to be a natural coolant and helpful in beating the summer heat,” Dalal said. Dalal.

“Kokum, rich in essential vitamins and minerals, makes for an excellent electrolyte-balancing drink on mixing with some sugar and water,” explained Dr. Trupti Bhole, professor at Bhartiya Vidyapeeth Ayurveda College in Pune. “It prevents dehydration and dryness due to summer heat.”

Konkanis take extracts of it in refreshing drinks such as the kokum sherbet I tried (which was also mixed with roast cinnamon powder, sugar, and cumin) and Solkadhi ( see recipe below) It, which is a robust and pink-colored beverage that is made by mixing coconut milk and kokum extract.

The kokum tree, which is fed by rain, blooms in March. The red-purple fruits are harvested in June and April. After gathering the rind, which is fibrous, the lemon-sized, ripe berry is separated from its seeds that are large and then dried for 6 to 8 days, which causes the rind to become almost black. The dried skin is heated in water, then reduced to create concentrated syrup by adding sugar to be used in food or drinks. The oil extracted from seeds, called kokum butter, is an emollient made from natural ingredients that can be utilized as a base for cosmetics.

The red-purple kokum fruit is picked between May and April (Credit Dinodia Photos/Alamy)

Although the local population extensively uses kokum, it’s grown in a tiny amount, mostly on plantations that produce coconut and mango. A study that was conducted in 2010 revealed that only 1,000 hectares of kokum were grown in Konkan. But, due to the increasing demand for kokum, the forest department in Konkan is gradually putting up more trees along roadsides and in forest areas.

The fruit is also making its way into the spotlight of food in small, local eateries to more upscale establishments across India.

“Not much attention was given for its cultivation initially; however, it is getting its due gradually,” Dalal said. Dalal.” The wild plant that was used for cooking in the home, is now turning into a gourmet. Chefs are exploring the rich and sour taste of kokum.”

Goa Portuguesa is an award-winning restaurant founded around 1988, was established in Mumbai, and has a more recent location in Dubai. It serves Goan and Portuguese specialties made using the kokum. “Kokum is used very often in Goan food. Our restaurant has kokum in pickles, jams and chutneys besides the traditional dishes like solkadi [a cold coconut milk and kokum soup], seafood sukke [clams and prawns cooked in a thick coconut and kokum gravy], mushroom xacuti [mushrooms cooked in a kokum-coconut gravy] or shark ambottik [shark cooked in tangy coconut-kokum gravy],” chef-owner Deepa Awchat. “The kokum gives a beautiful color to the thick coconut gravy, and its sourness subdues the typical seafood odor.”