Known as “goraka” ගොරකා in Sinhalese and “korukkaippuli” கொறுக்காய்ப்புளி in Tamil, since ancient times this ingredient has held an important position in Sri Lankan cookery and herbal remedies. For culinary purposes, it is used as a meat tenderizer and as a souring agent for meat dishes such as chicken curry and fish dishes such as “ambul thiyal” (a specialty from the south of Sri Lanka but a favorite throughout the country, this is a dish of fish chunks cooked with an appetizing sour-spicy-salty spice concoction of ground black pepper, goraka and salt) and “maalu mirisata” මාළු මිරිසට (a hot and sour fish curry with red chili powder, goraka and salt).
Goraka is usually not used in vegetable dishes, perhaps with the exception being curries prepared with young jackfruit, known as “polos” පොලොස් in Sinhalese. “Polos ambula” පොලොස් ඇඹුල for instance, a highly popular curry of jackfruit spices and thick coconut milk, uses goraka as a souring agent (“polos” පොලොස් = “young jackfruit”, “ambula” ඇඹුල = “sour”).
It is also used as a preserving agent, for instance to preserve fish. “Jaadi” ජාඩි a traditional Sri Lankan preserved fish is one example. Here, the freshest fish such as Indian Mackerel (“kumabala” කුම්බලා) or skipjack tuna (“balaya” බලයා) would be doused with goraka and salt then sealed in clay jars for months before being taken out to be served as an accompaniment to rice.
Although this has historically been highly popular in Sri Lanka (particularly in the coastal south of the island in areas such as Galle, Matara and Ahangama), its consumption and production has been on the decline, perhaps due to the availability of modern methods of fish preservation which are comparatively less time-consuming (but no match in taste), such as freezing.
For medicinal purposes, goraka is valued for its ability to aid in digestion, relieve digestive problems. The flowers and leaves of the goraka tree are also used in traditional Sri Lankan remedies.
Goraka cultivation and production in Sri Lanka:
Goraka trees flourish in Sri Lanka, in the wet regions as well as in the forests. The goraka tree produces fruits twice a year. The fruits, referred to as “goraka fruit” somewhat resemble a mangosteen with deep ridges. The rind color, could be red, known as “rathu goraka” රතු ගොරකා in Sinhalese (“rathu” = “red”), or yellow, known as “ela goraka” එළ ගොරකා in Sinhalese (“ela” directly translates into “cow” however it is also used as a reference to “white”. Yellow goraka is white when immature and turns yellow when mature).
The production process starts with plucking the fruits from the tree when the fruits are ripe (however, in pursuit of profits, sometimes the fruits are plucked unripe and force ripened, which results in an inferior product). The rind is then broken off along the deep ridges (each broken off piece is called a “beak”), leaving behind just the core of the fruit (a pulpy flesh) which is retained separate from the ridges broken off earlier. This pulpy flesh is a deep magenta in the case of “red goraka”, or pale yellow in the case of “yellow goraka”.
The fresh fruits cannot be eaten raw, as their excessively sour taste renders its unpalatable.
The broken ridges are smoked, coated with the “sap” extracted from the goraka core that had been retained earlier and then sun-dried until the rinds turn dark black and wrinkled after which they are ready to be used.