Sugary Sap of Palm

Last week, I accidentally overheard the conversation between my housemate and our housemaid. It was about palm sugar and brown sugar. Mrs. Wiwi, our housemaid, said to Mala that they are two different things. As far as I could recall, my relatives always cited all kind of brownish block sweeteners as brown sugar. Apparently, so did Mala's. Hence we—me and Mala—raised our brows and perplexedly respond, 'Really?'

Oh my, it really is.

Arenga palm sugar.

Palm sugar is a natural sweetener made from nira (Indonesian term), the sugary sap of palm. Commonly from Borassus species (Palmyra palm), Phoenix sylvestris (Date palm), Arenga pinnata (Aren palm), Metroxylon sagu (Sago palm) or Cocos nucifera (Coconut palm) sap that collected by binding tightly and/or making slits into the bud. Thereof, it may be sold as arenga (or aren) sugar or coconut (palm) sugar.

In the traditional way, the sap then boiled until thickens and poured into bamboo tubes, left condensed to form cylindrical blocks. It sometimes sold in bowl-shaped too. As a product of cottage industries, its color, flavor, sweetness and consistency varies from batch to batch—light-colored or dark, soft and gooey or hard. Some palm sugar found in the market is not a 100% pure but is blended with cane sugar and/or malt sugar. These tend to result white hard blobs, which will distinguish it with the pure one.

Commonly sold in cylindrical blocks (in various size), or in bowl-shaped.
The dark-colored and hard one.

As I have previously mentioned, here in Indonesia, particularly in some part of the Java region (where I grew up and had been reside), we often misplaced it as brown sugar—which is made from sugar cane. Although, the taste of pure palm sugar indeed resembles that of brown sugar. Yet more tender, dense and chewy without the intense ending flavor.

For cooking purposes, palm sugar has a very low melt temperature and an extremely high burn temperature, makes it suitable for confectioners. Compared to other sweeteners, palm sugar also has has an extremely low glycemic index and an extremely high nutrient. That is why it is sometime used as replacement of cane sugar in culinary, in order to maintain sugar intakes.

Substitutes: Brown sugar and maple sugar. These both will have to be moisten first, with molasses or maple syrup, to attain a similar consistency as palm sugar which is generally soft and pourable.

GrowinKitchen's recipes using palm sugar:
Javanese Red and White Rice Pudding
Ginger Cloves Cinnamon Milk with Honey
Javanese Mixed Vegetable Salad with Spiced Grated Coconut

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