Not to be confused with the controversial ingredient ‘palm oil’, palm sugar is harvested in an environmentally friendly and sustainable process and is made from the sap of different varieties of palm trees including date, coconut, sago, and palmyra.
The sap is extracted from the flower buds, or the trunk depending on the type of palm, and is boiled down to form a thick unrefined chunk, which is then cooled and stirred so crystals form. Any remaining syrup (molasses) is removed by a spinning process called centrifuging to leave the final palm sugar product, which is packaged into bottles, tins or specialised plastic packaging. This whole process is natural and ensures palm sugar is free of any chemicals.
Colour and texture is no indication of quality as palm sugar can range from a soft and crumbly granulated form through to a hard toffee-like rock, and it varies from a light golden to chocolatey brown or almost black, depending on how it is processed. Palm sugar can also be sold in liquid form – and all examples are equally as rich and tasty as each other.
Palm sugar is often referred to as a healthier alternative to cane sugar, and with good reason. It contains low levels of fructose and due to its unrefined nature, it contains vitamins and trace elements such as vitamin B, thiamine, riboflavin folic acid, potassium, zinc, iron, manganese and phytonutrients; polyphenols and flavonoids.
Palm sugar also has a low glycemic index (GI), almost half that of cane sugar. This means it is slowly absorbed by the body and therefore prevents any spike in insulin levels. Research has shown the GI of palm sugar is around 35, honey is 55 while cane sugar is 68.
Less sweet than cane sugar, the taste of palm sugar can range from the nuttiness of green coconut through to a sweet caramel or butterscotch flavour. Therefore, it can be used in a wide range of dishes from curries, stir fries to teas, cakes and desserts. The textural version should be shaved, crumbled, chopped or made into syrup for its use as an ingredient. Try it as a healthier substitute for sugar or brown sugar in your favourite Asian recipe.
Some popular recipes with palm sugar as an essential ingredient (or as a substitute for brown sugar) include:
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