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Relish this new superfruit

Kokum

Kokum juice has been my favourite summer drink since my childhood,” says Annapurna Hegde. “I used to pluck ripe fruits from this plant, gulp a few of them and prepare fresh juice for immediate use. As I grew up, it became a routine during summer months to collect fresh fruits from the trees around my house and prepare syrup, a concentrate that is used to make juice throughout the year. About a decade ago, I started preparing it in larger quantities — about 50 litres, for sale. Last year, I prepared and sold about 200 bottles. It is a welcome addition to my family income.”

The increase in demand for kokum (Garcinia indica) because of the health benefits it offers has increased its prospects. This, in turn, has enthused farm-based entrepreneurs like Annapurna to try different products from the fruit.

Plantation crop

Known as murugalu or punarpuli in Kannada, kokum is a medium-sized, pyramid-shaped evergreen tree growing naturally in the Western Ghats. It yields during April and May and the fruit weighs about 35-80 grams. Kokum has two main types based on the colour of ripe fruits. Red, which is common, and white or yellow, which is rare. The white fruit is considered to have a greater medicinal and culinary value.

Apart from being cultivated as a plantation crop by a few enthusiasts, kokum is largely forest produce in the coastal and Malnad regions of the state. Sensing future demand and scope for value addition, many enterprising farmers are coming forward to plant kokum as a horticultural crop these days.

Kokum was used as fresh fruit in small quantities in rural households until the recent past. After its health benefits are scientifically researched and recipes developed, awareness and demand are on the rise. However, selling fruits may not be lucrative for farmers. “At the present purchase price, it is difficult to recover even harvesting cost,” says Dattatreya Bhairimane, who is cultivating kokum in his farm. He feels that value addition is the way forward for farmers and forest-
dependent people to get a sizable income out of it.

Kokum is traditionally used in its native tract to prepare juice (sharbat) as a rejuvenating drink especially during summer. Other conventional products are kokum butter, which is applied for skin cracks, and dried rind, which is used as an ingredient in various dishes.

“Kokum is a known remedy for acidity. That apart, its use as a cardioprotective agent is documented by Charaka, one of the principal contributors to Ayurveda,” says Dr Prasanna, an Ayurvedic practitioner in Sirsi.

It has antioxidants and is rich in hydroxycitric acid (HCA), an anti-obesity compound. It is useful in haemorrhoids and diarrhoea. Kokum rind juice is used for rickets, arthritis and inflammation of spleen. Kokum butter is used as cooking oil too. Recent studies have shown that kokum butter can be used as a base material in chocolate manufacturing.

Drying kokum rind requires minimal processing and is traditionally done in many families for household use. Sustainable harvesting and value addition with a focus on its taste, medicinal properties and general health augmenting properties are well-taken commercially by some farmers and small entrepreneurs in Uttara Kannada district.

Entrepreneurs Shobha Hegde Unchalli, Annapurna Hegde Chipgi and Parameshvani Marathi Benagaon, all based in Sirsi, are producing kokum sugar concentrate and kokum squash. The sugar concentrate is prepared by soaking ripe kokum rinds in the required quantity of sugar and salt. The rich red-coloured syrup is reconstituted with water before use. Prakash Shet from Siddapur has come up with a kokum concentrate and ready-to-drink product and sells in the brand of Ainkai Products.

Manjunath Hegde of Gerusoppa village has many naturally grown trees around his house. He prepares wine from the normally wasted juice which trickles down when the ripe fruits are cut open. He feels that every product needs to be standardised to maintain uniformity. “As everybody is producing sugar-based kokum juice concentrate, sugar-free preparation would also be in high demand,” he says.

One of the successful farmer-entrepreneurs who has pioneered value-addition of kokum with innovative products is Bengali Venkatesha-Ganga couple, a farmer couple near Banavasi. Their products such as white kokum jam, kokum chutney and kokum butter skin cream are popular among consumers across the state and even outside. This year, they have produced more than 1,000 jars of white kokum jam.

Ramesh of Kanagod village is happy selling sundried rinds and seeds. He has about 50 trees in his farm. Ramu Kini has planted more than 2,000 kokum plants in his farm in Husri village near Sirsi and plans to set up a processing unit.

“There is a huge scope for the value addition of the fruit,” says Dr Laxminarayan Hegde, head, Horticulture Research Station, Sirsi. He, along with his team of researchers, has come up with wine, candy and jam made from kokum recently. Ajit Shirodkar, president of Goa Kokum Foundation is of the opinion that kokum is indeed an income generating crop. N K Singh, a scientist at Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru terms kokum as a superfruit. The institute has developed a technology to prepare kokum jelly candy and is planning to train people on this.

Starting from marketing packed fruit, there are many avenues for large-scale value addition of this neglected fruit. Mixed fruit jam, carbonated soda, spray-dried juice powder, rind candy, pickling, and extraction citric acid, apart from much-established concentrate syrup and squash, are some tried and tested products.

Juice concentrate, ready-to-serve drink, dried rind, rind powder, sol kadi, soda, white kokum jam, white kokum chutney, soap and kokum butter lip balm are some of the other value-added products that are gaining traction. Kokum wine and candy are forthcoming promising products. “Further research in the extraction of
HCA and the natural colourant are needed,” says Laxminarayan Hegde.

“Of these, kokum syrup and dried rind powder are popular among consumers,” says Manju Mavinasara, an official at Kadamba Marketing society, Sirsi. “I always keep a bottle or two of kokum syrup at my home. It is a highly rejuvenating drink and can be prepared instantly,” opines Vanitha G, a consumer in Sirsi.

Kadamba Marketing Society in Sirsi, an organisation of farmers, is making good efforts to promote kokum by providing a sustainable market for both the producers and consumers. “We buy any amount of kokum products from the farmers,” says Shambhulinga Bhat, president of the organisation.

The way forward

To discuss the various possibilities of kokum value addition, a Kokum Mela was organised at Kadamba Marketing society recently. More than 20 value-added products were on display. “Many entrepreneurial farmers are coming forward for value addition and the recent trend is that many are approaching us for guidance to plant kokum,” says Vishweshwar Bhat, chief executive officer of Kadamba Marketing society.

However, there are several challenges that stop kokum from reaching its full potential. Harvesting ripe fruits from trees is quite labour-intensive. There is a very short period for collection as fruiting happens only for about two months. If it rains during late summer, fruit fly maggots may develop inside the fruit. Kokum fruits are highly perishable and cannot be stored for long. Only ripe fruits are suitable for any kind of value addition. The problem of adulteration also poses a challenge to the popularity of kokum products. While adulterated products are cheap, the quality is bad.

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