Another close relative of the Kokum Tree, the Gambooge (also Gamboge or Camboge), Garcinia gummi-gutta, has also gained attention for its anti-obesity properties. Again, these claims are based on the presence of Hydroxycitric Acid which is said to interfere with fat generation in the human body. Tests are yet to prove the validity of such claims. Meanwhile, detractors have cautioned people consuming Gambooge-based fat-loss supplements to consider the side-effects of Hydroxycitric Acid. A small to medium-sized evergreen tree reaching heights of 5 to 20 m, the Gambooge is native to South Asia. It bears red flowers in clusters and has glossy, dark green leaves like its more famous relative – Kokum. The orange-sized fruits look like small, green pumpkins to begin with (on account of their grooved exterior), before turning yellow or red. The rind is sun-dried for storage and used as a souring agent in the cuisines of western coastal India. Like Kokum, it can substitute Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) in curries. Similar preparations are found in India’s Northeast and neighboring Southeast Asia. One example is the Thai Sour Curry – Kaeng Som, which uses Gambooge (or Assam Fruit) extract to add punch to a spicy broth of shrimp, fish and vegetables. The Laotians, Malaysians and Indonesians have their own variants.

The Gambooge is considered to be endemic to the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. It probably spread to Southeast Asia on account of its culinary and medical value. The species is even cultivated as far east as the Philippines and China. It is harvested in the wild for its fruits and gum. A resident of the tropics, it grows best in valleys and along river banks in areas with an annual precipitation of 1,500 to 4,000 mm where the temperature ranges between 15 to 30°C, between altitudes of 50-1,800 m asl. While the fruits can be consumed raw, it is the rind which is most valuable, yielding a dark coloured flavoring agent after curing. Like the Kokum, the Gambooge Tree’s seeds yield a ‘butter’ – ‘Uppaga Tuppa’. Medical uses of Gambooge include claims of its effectiveness against obesity (fruit juice and rind extract), bowel problems and rheumatism. The gum is used to manufacture dyes, varnishes and paints while the wood is turned into furniture and construction material. It acquired quite a reputation when its extract was promoted as a miracle weight loss drug by one Dr. Oz (Mehmet Cengiz Öz, a Turkish American television personality, surgeon and author notorious for his endorsement of unproven cures under the garb of alternative medicine).

Mr. Mehmet Cengiz Öz, who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show as a health expert and won several awards for his work as a talk show host, was slammed during a 2014 US Congressional hearing for promoting dubious remedies, including Gambooge. Given below is an extract from a CNN report, Congressional hearing investigates Dr. Oz ‘miracle’ weight loss claims’ by Jen Christensen and Jacque Wilson (dated June 19, 2014):

Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” faced grilling by senators on Capitol Hill about the promotion of weight loss products on his show. Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance, led the panel that on Tuesday looked at false advertising for weight loss products. Subcommittee members took issue with assertions that Oz has made on his show about products that don’t have a lot of scientific evidence to back them up, such as green coffee beans. “The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called ‘miracles,’ ” said McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. She said she was discouraged by the “false hope” his rhetoric gives viewers and questioned his role “intentional or not, in perpetuating these scams.” “I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true. When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show? … With power comes a great deal of responsibility.” The Federal Trade Commission is in charge of protecting consumers from “unfair or deceptive advertising and marketing practices that raise health and safety concerns.” In May, the FTC sued the sellers of Green Coffee Beans for deceiving consumers through fake news sites and invented health claims. In addition to green coffee beans, McCaskill called out Garcinia cambogia as another weight loss product Oz has promoted. “Thanks to brand new scientific research, I can tell you about a revolutionary fat buster,” Oz said on his show in November 2012 with the words “No Exercise. No Diet. No Effort” on the screen behind him. “It’s called Garcinia cambogia.” A 1998 study of 135 participants found Garcinia cambogia did not significantly help people lose weight any more than a placebo. But a 2013 meta-analysis of Garcinia cambogia studies hedged on the supplement’s ineffectiveness, saying its weight loss benefits “remain to be proven in larger-scale and longer-term clinical trials.” Whether it helps people lose weight or not, the Garcinia cambogia does not seem to be unsafe to use, some other studies say.Oz testified Tuesday that he could not be held responsible for what certain companies say online about the products. He said he’s toned down some of his language and will publish a list of products he thinks really can help people lose weight.

Apart from the qualities mentioned above, the tree is cultivated as an ornamental or shade tree in plantations. The Gambooge, like the Kokum, is known by many other names, some of which have been listed below:

  • Tamil: Gorakkapuli, Heela, Kottukkappuli, Panampuli
  • Malayalam: Gorakkapuli, Pinar, Kodampuli, Kudapuli, Marapuli, Meenpuli, Perumpuli, Pinampuli
  • Kannada: Manda Huli, Mantulli, Punara Huli, Seeme Hunnise, Upagi Mara
  • English: Gamboge, Camboge, Brindleberry, Malabar Tamarind

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a Gambooge Tree growing in Aanakkulam, Kerala. The photograph was uploaded by Jeevan Jose.