Ever since popular American television star Dr. Oz mentioned garcinia cambogia as a possible weight loss tool, people’s curiosity has been piqued. What was otherwise a shy, lowly fruit grown in only a few regions of the world has now become the center of a weight loss fad. For centuries, garcinia cambogia resided in dry, dusty bags only to be sold as a curry supplement and for the occasional therapeutic remedy. Today, however, it shines in colorful, sleek bottles aimed at dieters.
Origin of Garcinia Cambogia
Garcinia cambogia is just one of the 300 to 500 species in the Garcinia genus, all of which are native to regions in Asia, Australia, Polynesia, and southern and tropical Africa. Some point to Indonesia as garcinia cambogia’s specific origin.
Sir William Jackson Hooker recorded notes on the fruit’s preparation during his trip to Sri Lanka in 1835. In his words, the Singhalese “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.”
Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia are also well acquainted with the garcinia cambogia. In these countries, the Muslim population often includes the dried rind as a flavorful pickle or condiment.
In India, the fruit is better known as the Malabar tamarind, kudampuli in Kerala, and “cambodge.” Other closely relates fruits, like the Talbot garcinia (Garcinia malabarica) also grow throughout the country’s warm coastal regions.
Availability of Garcinia Cambogia in India
Malabar tamarinds grow well in the south, particularly along the Western Ghats and in Kerala. In these regions, it’s commonplace for village homes to have these fruit trees growing in their yard.
Garcinia cambogia season is during the rainy months of June through August. The trees fruit prolifically at elevations up to 6,000 feet in evergreen forests.
Where to find Garcinia Cambogia in India
It’s possible to find fresh fruits when strolling through the markets of Kerala or by purchasing a few from pushcart vendors along the West coast. Aside from these scenarios, finding fresh gamboge is unlikely. However, several outlets sell the fruit it in its dried, blackened form, or as a nutritional supplement in health food stores. Ayurvedic practitioners sell the fruit and root’s extracts as a treatment for various afflictions, from obesity to nerve pain to insomnia.
Checking for Ripeness in Garcinia Cambogia
Garcinia cambogias are generally green when unripe, and vary in color once ripened: The fruits turn magnificent hues of red, orange, yellow and brownish yellow once ripe. As they near spoilage, the fruits lose their glossy sheen and the exterior becomes golden brown and tough.
Taste of Garcinia Cambogia
The taste of Malabar tamarind is sour and acidic, which contributes to its reputation as a digestive aid in Ayurveda. Though there’s a bit of sweetness to the fruit, the overwhelming sourness of it makes it unpalatable to eat raw. As such, the fruit—particularly the rind—is used to enhance the zest of several dishes. Many Indians use the fruit as a substitute to the sour tamarind because of its likeness in taste.
Nutritional Value of Garcinia Cambogia
I’ve not found its nutritional information, unfortunately. That said, its medicinal benefits resemble fruits high in vitamin C. Like most fruits, it’s also probably low in fat, high in water content and fiber.
Health Benefits of Garcinia Cambogia
In Ayurveda, the fruit treats ailments from rheumatism, arthritis, digestive disorders to gum disease. It also treats worms, parasites, dysentery, purgatives, and allegedly, tumors.
The most touted compound of the Malabar tamarind is its hydroxycitric acid or, HCA. Supplement specialists hype the extracts as a fat-burning, metabolism-boosting, appetite-suppressing weight loss mechanism. The claim is that HCA inhibits an ezyme, citrate lyase, from converting carbohydrates into fat. This process compels the body to burn the carbs, instead of the normal reaction of storing them as fat.
Scientific studies show mixed reviews regarding HCA’s efficacy:
--A 1973 study published in Lipids indicate suppressed food intake when HCA was administered to animals. Another 2009 study published in Nutritional Research found that animals had a decreased body weight gain.
--One 2004 study published in Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism prescribed 60 overweight adults in India to take HCA and niacin-bound chromium, and another to take a placebo. Both groups ate 2,000 kcal a day and did a walking program. At the end of the trial, the HCA group lost 1% more weight (not significant), but the group taking HCA also left more food on their plate.
--A 2013 study published in Investigational New Drugs found that using a combination of molecules—of which HCA is included—targeting cancer metabolism resulted in decreased tumor growth in mice.
--According to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, short-term HCA supplementation enhances athletic performance and endurance.
--A 2007 study published in Nutrition Research found that a mixture of psyllium and HCA reduced body weight gain and body fat when tested in rats.
On the other hand, some studies show little to no weight loss efficacy in human trials:
--In 1998, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a double blind study of 135 overweight men and women. In it, the double-blind trial concluded that Garcinia cambogia extracts failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass over the placebo group.
--A Korean study published in the Nutrition Journal also failed to prove any weight loss results when its human subjects took garcinia cambogia extracts.
Safety and Side Effects of Garcinia Cambogia
A study at Spain’s Virgili University showed that taking garcinia cambogia extracts produced no harmful or adverse side effects. The US’s Food and Drug Administration does not currently regulate this weight loss supplement.
Though the garcinia fruit extract might be safe on its own, it’s best to verify the safety of other ingredients. Supplement manufacturers often add a cocktail of other herbs, fruits, and extracts. Anecdotally, people who have taken supplements write of a few interesting effects in the comment section of garcinia cambogia extract websites. Some complain of dizziness and shortness of breath, stomach pains, diarrhea, headaches and cramps. Though these side effects may be the result of supplement additives, it’s best to use any supplement with caution.
How to Open/Prepare Garcinia Cambogia
Open Garcinia cambogia like a mangosteen: gently slice the knife through the pliant, yet thick flesh along its ridged lines. A small cut should be enough to manually “crack” open the fruit with the hands. The fruit’s fleshy pods can be scooped out with ease.
The process for drying the sour rind has not changed much since Hooker’s description in 1835: families still leave the fruit in the sun for a few days before smoking them over the cooking stove in a tightly woven bag.
Storing Garcinia Cambogia
Fresh cambogias have a long shelf life. In dry storage, they last up to 3 weeks. Keep the fruits out of hot, humid areas, as these conditions cause the fruit to harden. In cooler, humid conditions, the fruits may last for up to a month. Wrap the fruits in paper towels for best results.
Keep dried cambogia in an airtight container in the fridge. Like tamarind paste, however, the rind is exceptionally resilient and non-perishable: some last for a year in small jars set near the stovetop.
Malabar Tamarind Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Though the fruit’s rind is what contains the medicinal, commercial HCA, other parts of Garcinia cambogia may be used in the kitchen.
--The smoked rind, kodampuli, is heady, sour, bold, and of course, smoky. It goes well in curries and doubles as tamarind paste.
--The fruit is used as a food preserver due to its antibacterial properties. It’s common to preserve fish using garcinia cambogia, and in Sri Lanka, this practice is called “Colombo curing.”
--Many villagers pickle garcinia cambogia and serve it as a condiment akin to mango chutney or garlic pickle.
--The juice is an adequate substitute for lime, lemon and orange juice.
Fruits: Tamarind, lemon, lime, kokum, Cochin goraka, mangosteen, orange, amla, star gooseberry, coconut, guava, pineapple, coconut, pineapple
Seasoning: Coconut oil, coconut milk, lemon juice, limejuice, orange juice, citrus rind, salt, black pepper, vinegar, pepper, tamarind paste, mustard seed, turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic, fenugreek, asafetida, tamarind paste, liquid smoke, gingelly oil, pandan leaf, soy sauce, lemongrass
Goraka pulli, panampulli, vadakkan puli (Tamil)
Manda huli, mantulli, punara huli (Kannada)