Before sugar there was palm sugar!
For centuries, Asian countries have extracted the nectar of palm trees and boiled it down to a concentrated form which can then be used as a sweetener for culinary and medicinal purposes. The sugar is drawn from many types of palm including palmyra (Borassus flabellifer), coconut (Cocos nucifera), kithul or fishtale (Caryota urens), date (Phoenix dactylifera), silver date (Phoenix sylvestrus), aren (Arenga pinnata), and nipa (Nypa fruticans) palms.
In Malaysia, our type of palm sugar is called Gula Melaka. The flavour is sometimes described as having warm golden caramel and buttery tones. Doesn’t it sound absolutely delicious?!
How is it made?
Gula Melaka is made from the nectar of the flower bud of a coconut tree. The nectar is boiled until it thickens and becomes a syrup. Once the nector has been sufficiently reduced, it is poured into moulds and allowed to cool. Commonly used moulds include bamboo tubes approximately 3 to 5 inches in length. This is the reason why you often find it sold in cylindrical blocks.
Is Gula Melaka better for you?
Gula Melaka or any other type of palm sugar for that matter is better for you than processed sugar. It has a lower glycemic index (the rate at which glucose is released into your bloodstream) and is less sweet than cane sugar. This doesn’t mean that you can consume more of it. Any type of sugar, even those extracted from fruits, is not good for you if you have too much.
How to choose the right Gula Melaka
Pure Gula Melaka, without any addition, should be dark in colour and pliable to the touch. Hard, lighter coloured blocks have likely been mixed with cane sugar. This is not always be a bad thing, though. Some people actually prefer it to the pure kind as the flavour profile would be softer and less intense.
How do you store Gula Melaka?
Keep it in a dark, dry place and it will should last for years. Because of its easy storage and long lasting quality, it will save you a lot of money by buying in bulk and storing it for many meals and desserts to come!
How do you use Gula Melaka?
There are several ways you can use Gula Melaka including as a substitute for processed sugar. Shave it down and add it to your coffee, beat it with your butter to make cake or melt it down to a syrup to pour over your desserts.
When turning it into syrup form, make sure you cook it down over low heat with water.
About 250 grams to half a cup of water should get you a nice thin syrup. You may even want to add a pandan leaf or two to enhance the aroma. Set it aside to cool before using it in or over any of your desserts.