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!
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.