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Palm sugar, in India called Gur or Jaggery, in Malaysia Gula melaka or Malacca sugar, is produced from flower buds of the Arenga palm (bot.: Arenga pinnata) and Mangrove palm (bot.: Nypa fruticans). Palms intended for the sugar production are cultivated in plantations. After three or four years the palms are old enough to start extracting sap from the buds.

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Cultivation and harvest of palm sugar

To extract the sweet sap from the palms, some preliminary work is needed. At first the bract of the flower bud is tied very tight so the flower cannot open up. The tube such formed is beaten lightly with a stick for several days. The beating has two reasons: The cells of the stiff bract are injured and start producing more sap and the flower bud becomes more elastic, which makes it possible to bend it down a little more each day.

After three or four weeks the tip of the bud is cut open and the sweet juice can finally flow out. The juice is collected in containers. During the main harvesting season the sap is collected twice a day. To allow a constant flow of the juice, the cut in the tip of the flower bud is renewed each day.

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Production of palm sugar

The extracted palm juice is very sensitive to heat. It starts to ferment only few hours after exiting the palm. Limestone paste is added to the collecting containers to delay the fermentation process because palm sugar can only be made from unfermented palm sap. Therefore the sap must be processed as quickly as possible.

The sap is rubbed through a sieve to filter out impurities and unwanted particles. The sieved sap is cooked with a small piece of coconut for four to five hours until it thickens. The coconut prevents overboiling. When a few drops of cooked palm sap solidify when dropped in water, it is time to put the palm syrup into a pan. In this pan the syrup is beaten for 20 minutes until it starts to crystallize. Now the syrup is poured into bamboo tubes, where it cools and turns solid. The palm sugar is then released from the poles. The palm sugar cylinders are now very hard. To use them they have to be grated or chopped.

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Use of palm sugar

In cuisine palm sugar is ideal to sweeten cake and desserts. Its special aroma is hard to substitute. Alternatively the much sweeter brown rock candy or cane sugar can be used.

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