Juice extracted from the coconut flower, palmyra palm, sugar palm or aren palm, is boiled and packed into molds to make sugar with a faint caramel taste. It is a delicious, raw, honey-coloured lump sugar much used in coastal India and throughout China and SE Asia.
It is available in block form or in jars. The colour ranges from pale golden to very dark brown. Palm sugar is thick and crumbly and can be gently melted before adding to sauces or dressings. Soft brown sugar, demerara, or coconut sugar can be substituted, if necessary. Palm sugar is available from Asian or Indian food stores. It has a creamy, rich sweetness that works beautifully in desserts, and also in savoury dishes to balance the saltiness of soy sauce, the acidity of lemons or limes, and the pungency and spiciness of chillies. It can also be used to replace sugar in any recipe where the colour of the sugar will not affect the final dish.
If palm sugar is not available, use Indian Jaggery or a soft brown sugar. I often use them interchangeably, as I enjoy the differences in taste they give to a dish. When travelling, I will often bring back Palm Sugar from the region, as the taste also varies from country to country. I particularly enjoy Balinese Palm Sugar.
Palm Sugar Syrup
To make Palm Sugar Syrup, combine 1 cup of water, 2 pandan leaves and 2 cups chopped palm sugar. Bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes, strain and store in the fridge. Use in a variety of ways – it would be delicious with Mangoes in Syrup.
Jaggery is another name for palm sugar, and typically comes from the sap of date palms, coconut palms or sago palms. It can also be made from sugar cane juice – after sugar canes have been crushed to produce cane juice, the liquid is boiled down and reduced to make jaggery.
Jaggery might be labelled according to type — whether it’s made from palm trees or sugar cane — but not necessarily. Because jaggery is basically unrefined it can be produced by anyone, including small producers where labelling may not be used at all. It is usually golden brown to dark brown in colour.
The Chinese have used sugar in savoury dishes since ancient times and have developed a repertoire of different sweeteners. Among these is rock sugar, or yellow sugar, which comes in hard, angular and irregular sized pieces. It is made from palm, beet, or cane sugar and is less sweet than granulated sugars. It has a clear taste, with no caramel tones. Because it’s less sweet, it is great in tea, and doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of tea as much as white sugar can.
Chinese Lump Sugar is opaque, different sized lumps of crystallized, refined sugar made from sugar cane. Unlike Rock Sugar, it has a regular square shape and a smooth surface. The colour can be white or yellow. This sugar also has a clear sugar taste, with no caramel tones and it is made by suspending string in a raw sugar cane juice. The sugar in the juice crystallizes around the string, forming lumps of sugar crystals around it. It is slightly less sweet than Rock Sugar, adding a subtle, mellow flavour to dishes as well as a translucent finish.
In the Middle East, and in parts of India, rock candy is used to sweeten teas and coffee and is used as an after dinner snack. It is another form of crystallised sugar. Apparently, it is also one of the world’s best hangover cures. It can be bought in packets or loose, or formed around sticks and infused with saffron for stirring into your tea. Try it if you ever have a stomach ache or upset stomach. Persian rock candy sticks are called nabāt.
Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. Check out our easy Dessert recipes.