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Sweet Palm Sugar

Sweet Palm Sugar

At times my interests in ethnic recipes and alternative sweeteners collide, like when I come across the ingredient called palm jaggery–sugar made from the sap of the date palm. I usually just swap it with Sucanat, but always hoped I might get my hands on some real jaggery.

Lo and behold, while roaming the rows of the Green Festival in Chicago, guess what I found? While not technically jaggery, it is, as far as I can tell, itís closest cousin, or maybe a sibling: Coconut palm sugar.

I tend to rotate between Sucanat, maple sugar, agave syrup and honeyóbut this new sugar is something to behold. It is hard to describe, but hereís a shot: Itís rich, caramel-y, with a little wisp of smoke. It melts in your mouth in a sweet gush, that somehow isnít too sweet. It has a little smack of molasses, but is very round. It has depth, yet itís light. I really like it and can see how wonderfully it would enhance both sweet and savory dishes.

I pay attention to my food miles, so products from abroad have to really make up for their transportation-cost with some fair trade and sustainability effort. This particular brand that I found, Heritage Palm Sugars, satisfies in that respect. The sugar is a product from Big Tree Farms in Bali, which makes artisan food ingredients using old traditions and operating a number of small cooperative maintained sugarhouses for the production of their products. Keeping small batch artisan producers working to create a good product makes me happy. I hope that eating local hearty greens all winter makes up for my love of coffee and now, Balinese sugar!

Production begins by tapping the flower spikes that hang within the palm fronds. The nectar is kettle boiled over an open-hearth fire where the nectar slowly evaporates into a paste, this sugar is then cooled in coconut shell molds. Traditionally, this is the end of production, but the Heritage brand is then ground and dried making a more user-friendly sugar than the traditional sugar loaves.

So, at the festival I bought a few canisters: One plain and one made gold and spicy with the addition of sun-dried turmeric root (so lovely, and a fabulous candidate for caramelizing onions, dry rubs, spicy teas and chutneys). Alas, these cartons of perfect sweetness come with an artisan price tag and wonít be replacing my regular sweeteners entirely. But I am so happy to get to know them, and I am now feeling inspired to explore other styles and brands of jaggery. Sweet!

Try these recipes: Jaggery Coconut Bars and Ginger Jaggery Lemonade.

You can find local distributors of Heritage Palm Sugars at the Big Tree Farms website.

To order other specialty sugar and jaggery (including Heritage Palm Sugars) online, visit the excellent specialty food shop Kalustyan’s.

Read more: Basics, Food, , , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Care2 Healthy and Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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6:56AM PST on Feb 24, 2012

A little late response ;) but thanks from this moment in time. I just learned about palm sugar today and they seem to have many advantages over sugar made ​​from sugar beet. Definitely gonna try it as soon as my regular sugar has run out.

2:49PM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

Thanks Melissa.

4:29AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

Thanks for the article.

8:54AM PST on Dec 13, 2008

Many palm trees can be tapped for sap which in turn can be turned into sugar. Sugar content varies from palm tree to palm tree, and the tapping technique won't be the same. In some, it's the inflorescence (flower spathes) itself that is tapped while in some varities, the trunk itself is tapped for sap.

The only literature I know of about coco palm sugar and diabetics is the one released by the Philippine Food and Nutrition Research Institute about coco palm sugars where they found it to be low glycemic (GI 35.)

More information here:

8:50AM PST on Dec 13, 2008

Most palm trees can be tapped for the sap, which in turn can be made into sugar. However, different palm varieties require different tapping techniques.

With some palm trees, it is the inflorescense (flower spathe) that is cut to draw the sap out. In other palm trees, it is the trunk itself that is tapped.

The only literature I know of is the one sponsored by a Philippine Food and Nutrition Institute where they found coco palm sugars to be low glycemic (GI 35). For diabetics, this means consuming the coco palm sugar will not cause their blood sugar levels to spike.

More information at:

1:20PM PDT on Jul 15, 2008

TO Linda: If your a diabetic they make a sugar like honey from the same plant they make vodka from Im not quite shure how to spell it umm agabah. Its a catus like plant you could probly find it it at a health food store, you could also could try stiva. That may affect you though, the agabah doesn't make the spikes in blood sugar like most sweateners, If you try the stiva and like it I know that sells the seeds If you would Like to grow your own stiva ensted of haveing to buy it. Well I hope that helps you some.

12:45PM PDT on Jun 5, 2008

Oh, how you have kindled my interest. I have two different species of palm trees in my yard. Each is distinctively different. One produces dates, and the other has not produced any fruit yet, it is the Saga Palm. Thank you for sharing this. I must know more about the sugar, because I have seen sap covering the budding dates, but did not know the tree produces sugar. Also, at Hilton Head Island South Carolina, I saw a salad on the bar, thought it was white chicken strips until I was told it came from the palm tree. It has the consistency of artichokes. Very interesting.

11:29PM PDT on May 23, 2008

I am interested in this sugar, but I am a diabetic. Do you have any information of the effects will have if I use it?

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