All You Need To Know About Sri Lanka's Garcinia Cambogia

With many names like brindleberry, Malabar tamarind, and kudam puli (pot tamarind). This small and exotic-looking fruit has been a staple of Sri Lankan cooking for many centuries. It looks like a small pumpkin and is green to pale yellow in colour and has a thick rind which is thought to provide many health benefits.

It comes from the Garcinia gummi-gutta plant which is a tropical species of Garcinia and the fruit has a sour taste so it’s often used as a condiment or pickle to reduce gas and soothe acidity. It is also thought to aid in weight loss. Garcinia cambogia is one of 300 to 500 species in the Garcinia genus that are native to Asia, Australia, Polynesia, and southern and tropical Africa. There is research that also points to Indonesia as the specific origin point of the plant.

It was in 1835 that an English botanist, Sir William Jackson Hooker first recorded the use of the fruit during a trip to Sri Lanka. His notes show how the Singhalese traditionally prepared and used it saying, “[They] prepare it by taking out the pulp and seeds, breaking it into pieces, and putting it into a heap, which is covered for two to three days, till it becomes soft. It is then smoked by burning cocoa-nut shells below the grating on which it’s spread. This operation is continued for many days, when it is tied up tight in a bag, and kept for use by being hung, I cannot say in the chimney, for chimneys that have none, but where it is under the influence of smoke from their fires when cooking.”

But its use isn’t limited only to Sri Lanka – Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia – and in particular the Muslim population of these countries – use the rind as a pickle. In India, it’s most often called the Malabar tamarind or Kudam puli and often crops up in recipes from Coorg and Kerala as a souring agent. The fascination for the fruit in the western world picked up when it got a reputation as a weight loss tool and it quickly became a diet fad with many supplements centred around the ingredient. 

The active ingredient that makes it so coveted is the hydroxycitric acid or HCA which some specialists claim is an enzyme inhibition and blocks citrate lyase from converting carbohydrates to fat and instead boosts the metabolism and compels the body to burn carbs instead. There hasn’t been any scientific backing for that claim but in Ayurveda, it was used to treat digestive disorders and stomach parasites. 

Even if you’re simply eating the Garcinia Cambogia as a kitchen ingredient it has some wonderful sour punch and although it’s difficult to eat raw, the pickled rind makes a great substitute for regular tamarind. It’s widely available in Coastal India and is the perfect exotic addition to your spice cupboard.