Friday, December 5, 2008

Palm Sugar

I recently discovered this amazing resource - Coconut Palm Sugar!

This ancient sweetener is very low on the Glycemic Index, with a rating of 35 (honey, usually considered "low GI" has a rating of 55). Even better, it is so cheap and tastes wonderful. It's like a mild maple sugar. Yum!

You can't find this in supermarkets, and although you can order it online through health-food websites it is usually quite expensive there. So why not just purchase it from where they use it all the time, where it's commonplace and therefore inexpensive? Like an oriental/ethnic market?

Yesterday during mom's eye-doctor appointment, my sister and I drove around town finding little Asian markets to check out. We came home with a whole bunch of delicious finds, including this coconut sugar. When we bought it, it was in a solid block (picture forthcoming). But it grated easily on the hand-grater and also with the fine-shredder on our Bosch, and now it's in a granulated state that is very practical to use.

Note that when you find this in the store it will most likely be called "Palm Sugar". Read the label closely (whatever parts of it you can find in English!) to make sure it's made from the sap of the coconut flower. There are other types of palm trees besides the ones that grow coconuts, and the glycemic index of those is higher, from what I understand.

We were nibbling on this sugar last night and can't wait to start making things with it! It would make the best vanilla ice cream in the world. And would add a delightful "mapley flavor" to pumpkin pie.

If you don't know where any ethnic markets are in your area, get out your phone book and look them up. You won't be disappointed. There are so many ingredients that we consider "specialty" (and therefore "expensive"), that are commonplace in their cooking and so they have them at a very decent prices! For example:

-Once grated, this 1 lb. block of sugar became 3 cups. It cost a grand total of $1.20.
-We bought a 2 lb bag of unbleached sea salt for $2.25
-Coconut milk and cream was $0.99/can.

Check out those little ethnic markets! :-)

Note: this post is part of Frugal Fridays. Visit Biblical Womanhood for more frugal suggestions!


Amy@GrowingLikeTrees said...

Thanks for the idea! We go to ethnic markets all the time, but I'd never thought of buying sugar and salt there. Next time, I'll look for them.

We buy almost all of our spices through ethnic markets -- much, much cheaper. Our rice we get there too (it's not much cheaper, but it's much better tasting!)

GOwin said...

Ahhh .. cheap. The magic word for today's consumers.

But then again, let's consider what cheap could mean:
- low-cost labor (most can no even be considered as "living wages", definitely not by any western standard.
- cut-throat "competition" i.e. get me the cheapest of item X, i don't care how you do it, just get them to me cheap.
- questionable, even dangerous practices. Use of chemical additives, preservatives or plain adulteration.

Coconut palm sugar is certainly not "mapley" but that's like comparing apples and oranges, or saying "it tastes like chicken" when trying our frogs or rabbits.

A coconut tapper will have to climb the palm tree, average height is about 15 meters (49 feet) every 3-4 hours, 4 to 6 times daily to ensure only fresh sap is used. Fermented sap will not crystallize.

He may opt to do this once or twice a day but he would have to use chemical preservatives. Now, if someone wants it cheap is it not logical to reduce the amount of work by climbing once or twice instead of four or six times?

Unlike maple sugar, where no climbing is done and automatic systems (tubes, vacuums, etc) have further reduced the amount of manual work required. How come no one is complaining about its price? Hmm...

So, for a dollar and twenty you get a pound of palm sugar. Wow! What a bargain!

Let's assume that half of that cost (I'm being generous) goes to the tapper. To produce a pound of coconut palm sugar, you need a gallon of palm sap.

A coconut spadix can produce about a quart in about a 6-hour time span. How many spadixes would a tapper has to tap just to get to a gallon?

A tapper I know taps about 50 trees and can only produce 12 liters in a 12-hour time span. That's about 3 gallons.

Three gallons at a generous 60 cents is a dollar and eighty for 12 hours of hard and dangerous work.

Wow. What a bargain!

GOwin said...

TYPO. Third paragraph should've read as:

Coconut palm sugar is certainly not "mapley" but that's like comparing apples and oranges, or saying "it tastes like chicken" when trying out frogs or rabbits.