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Also known as black kokum, cocum, and kokam, kokum is a small round fruit that has its origins in India. As a tropical fruit that is grown on an evergreen variety of trees, it is usually dark purple to black in color, and normally does not have a diameter of more than 2 inches (5.08 cm). An outer rind protects the meat of the fruit, which as a taste that is both sweet and salty.
Kokum is unique in that both the rind and the pulp of the fruit can be used in several ways. The meat of the fruit is considered to be an ideal snack when cut into small pieces. As a seasoning, the rind and the pulp are often dried and then pulverized into a powder. The mixture of sour and sweet taste is considered a nice addition to a number of different dishes, both hot and cold. Curry dishes are often created with the use of the kokum powder, as are bean and vegetable dishes. The powder is added during the preparation of the dish in most cases. However, it is not unusual for kokum to be added to the completed dish, in a manner similar to using salt and pepper at the dinner table.
Another common use of kokum is as an additive to foods that are undergoing a canning process. Pickles and various types of chutneys and relishes often contain a dash of the powder, providing a little extra bite to the flavor of the canned item. Using it in this manner is very common in a number of cultures, as the flavor does not decrease when kokum is exposed to heat. In fact, it is often added to different foods simply because of the natural resistance to heat that is characteristic of the fruit.
For people who enjoy fruit mixed with raw green vegetables, kokum is an excellent choice for adding an unexpected element to a salad. The dark rich color provides visual interest, while the natural flavor of the meat will enhance the overall taste without the need for a heavy dressing.
While kokum has not traditionally been widely available outside of India, that is slowly changing. A number of food boutiques around the world are beginning to carry the powder, as well as a syrup made from the fruit.