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George SSF

Tried this before! It's really worth trying in Malaysia! Thanks for sharing this post.


Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. While we were posted in Jakarta for 5 years, I bought palm sugar from almost all of the places we visited in Indonesia - Balikpapan, Samarinda, Gorontalo, Manado, Bali, Padang, Palembang, to name a few. Bought those that were not readily available in Jakarta. I was also drawn to ones wrapped in leaves or other forms of traditional packaging. Like you mentioned, flavours differed immensely depending on where it came from. There's always room in my luggage for palm sugar. And I'm definitely buying the book.


Thank you! Oxford Companions are worth supporting. :)


Very interesting piece Robyn. I was thinking of buying Darra's book, now will order it. Congrats on being part of it. Just curious, are palm oil palms a different tree?


Hi Linda -- yes, different variety of palm. There are many! Only a few are tapped for sugar. Palm oil is made by processing the palm fruits. I think you'll enjoy the book.

Amanda  (@lambsearshoney)

I just happen to have that brilliant book sitting right next to me now - I bought it after hearing Darra talk about it on a podcast (Splendid Table, maybe?). It's a fabulous resource for all things sweet & now I must go straight to your entries to read them!


I love gula melaka ( no wonder I am Melaka-born afterall). However, you have to try the palm sugar (jaggery or kitul)in Sri Lanka! Not sure if from a different type of palm. Fantabulous delicious caramelised coconutty taste.... reminds me of the gula melaka of old, more homemade taste, less commercialised. You'll see a stall or two on the roadside selling these whilst travelling across the Sri Lanka.

Michele {Malaysian Meanders}\

Now that we have left Penang, I am missing my gula melaka. I was chuffed to find it on the grocery store shelves in Austin, Texas, marketed as a low glycemic alternative to white sugar. It's granulated, not in solid disks like at the Penang wet markets, but the taste is close enough. I made some excellent Ginger Gula Melaka ice cream with it, formed a taco shell out of an Anzac biscuit and ended up with a rather nice treat that reminded me of Penang and my expat friends there. I need to order that Oxford Book.


Thanks for reading Roslin -- we brought back two types of jiggery from Tamil Nadu, one palm sugar and one cane sugar. (As I note in my Companion piece the term jaggery is frustratingly vague bec it doesn't specify which type of sugar it is.) I have to say that palm sugar was probably the best I've ever eaten. I've no doubt it's fantastic in Sri Lanka too. An Indian seller of puttu here in George Town uses imported jaggery in her sweets. Amazing.


Thanks for reading Amanda!

That sounds fantastic Michele -- there is a drink in Indonesia that combines palm sugar and ginger to lovely effect.

Linda Esposito

Hi robyn! Wow, I remember you talking effusively about palm sugar when I first met you 7-8 years ago?? Didn't realize you were just a newbie food writer then! And then the coconut sugar hit big here. Costco sells 4# bags of organic coconut sugar. Love the palm sugar article, though not sure if I want to fork out $65 for a book on sugar! I had to google "inflorescence" - oh, the bunga! I have actually seen monkeys being sent up the tree to collect the sap. Does palm sugar ever go bad? I have a whole stash of Balinese discs from 2007! Now thinking of putu mayam with gula melaka....


Hi Linda -- yes, we met at the tasting in San Francisco, didn't we? Yes, I was just a babe in the woods then when it came to food writing. ;-)
Palm sugar does not go bad. We have some from 5 years ago and it's fine.
Thanks for reading!


now i feel less guilty for lugging chunks of palm sugar in my suitcase all the way back from asia! and also helps explain why some of the stuff i've tried to purchase in stores here doesn't look or taste the same. always appreciate your meticulous research!

also, thanks for this encouraging tale of how some stories are years in the making. i've had so many notes and research trips that seemed to go nowhere. maybe i shouldn't give up on some of those yet!


Really nice post.


Hi Robyn,

I have not been reading your blog for quite a while and it is a nice surprise to read about palm sugar. I love the palm sugar made from Kabung palm tree from Benta in Kuala Lipis. I went there few years ago to see how the local makes it. Love it and personally I think it is much better than the Melaka's one. Hehehe!

Last week, I went back to my wife's hometown in Kota Bharu. We went to Din Tokyo's. I remember you wrote about it few years ago. I feel the quality of the food is not up to it anymore.


Iskandar, welcome back. Admittedly, I have not been posting much lately. With any luck that will change soonish.
Sorry to hear about Din Tokyo .... I may sound like a Malaysian, but it seems that in general, quality at a lot of places is not quite up to par these days (Penang mostly excepted :-) ).
One wonders if it might have something to do with the rising cost of ingredients .... and the unwillingness of most Malaysia diners to accept price rises from hawkers?
Happy New Year to you. I don't believe I've sampled gula from K Lipis but I'll take your word for it!


Looking so delicious. Your fodd picture & recipe made my hungry.


Hello and thanks for the interesting article. I am staying in Penang (close to Pulau Tikus) and was wondering if you could recommend a place or two where I could buy good quality palm sugar.


Hi Brad, go to Chow Rasta market, inside the under- renovation market building. Next to / behind the beef section is an Indonesian stall, somewhat hidden but you will know it by the bins of colorful dried rice and tapioca chips. Ask for gula Melaka and also gula aren (from Sumatra, different palm and different flavor). Very cheap at about 3 ringgit each. If you enjoy chips get some melinjo crackers to fry when you get home. Very unique and delicious flavor. Good luck!


This is totally incredible!

I know that this entry is like one year late, but I've just happened to see your entry so I read the whole thing

I'm a native of South East Asia, specifically, Malaysia and Indonesia (with one parent from each country) so yes, I've traveled around and tasted the various types of palm sugar

With the Indonesian and Malaysian society becoming more and more Westernized the less and less young uns are interested in palm sugar and the available variety of palm sugar (I understand that there are much more varieties out there that I've yet to test taste) will become less and less

Such shame!

I believe that someone ought to carry out a serious research on palm sugar (on the way they are made, the type of palm tree tapped, the 'bonus ingredients' that might have been added, etc) before all of them are like, "poof!" gone!

Since right now you are in the West perhaps you can commission someone from some universities or 'research institutes) --- who knows if they can find some kind of anti-oxidant from palm sugar?? --- to get it all down, at least for academic purposes

Anyway, a great read, and thanks !!


Thanks for reading Potato. Yes, exactly, this tradition will disappear with time. But palm sugar, at least some types of palm sugars, are becoming 'fashionable' .... and recognised for their healthiness (unprocessed, low GI index) and now there are new types of artisan producers. Here is one on Bali: http://bigtreefarms.com

Thanks for reading!

Kelantan Gal

YES!!! Now I know my taste buds aren't crazy. I've always thought the palm sugar from various countries taste different but I couldn't tell why. Thanks to your article now I know. Every time I visit my hometown of KB, I lug back kilos of palm sugar. This is precious commodity in my household and given as gifts only to a precious few.

Do you know why some palm sugar develop white crystals? After storing for some time, some of my palm sugar develop white crystals on top, right in the middle of the discs. Someone told me that it is because the palm sugar is not pure. Perhaps mixed with cane sugar. This only occurs with thre ones I buy from supermarkets but not the ones I buy directly from the kampung.

Thanks for a wonderful post. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Hi Kelantan Gal -- Kelantan has some of the best coconut palm sugar I've ever tasted! Yes -- white crystals mean that cane sugar has been added. This is often the case with factory sugar and more and more the case, unfortunately, with kampung sugar. Especially in Indonesia where palm tappers can make more money selling their sap for tuak (or making it themselves) than they can turning it into sugar. So there is less sap left for sugar, and many makers dilute with cane sugar.
Happy Holidays to you too!

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