What is Palm Sugar and How Do You Use It?

Nov 13, 2013

One of the main challenges of following the paleo diet is getting used to the restrictions. The benefits of the paleo diet are undeniable but, for many people, it can be difficult to let go of their old ways.

One way to make the transition easier is to find paleo-friendly substitutes for traditional foods like flour, grains and sugar. Most followers of the paleo diet use raw honey, stevia or pure maple syrup to sweeten their paleo recipes or tea like Palo Azul tea but another option exists – palm sugar. In this article you will learn what palm sugar is, where it comes from and how to use it in your own recipes.

Where Palm Sugar Comes From

As the name implies, palm sugar comes from palm trees. While this type of sugar was originally made from the Palmyra palm – also known as the date palm or sugar date palm – it is now made from the nipa palm and the Arenga pinnata (sugar palm) as well. This type of sugar is made from sap collected by making slits in the stem of the palm tree. The collected sap is then boiled until it is thickened. A similar product can also be made from coconut palms and is generally referred to as coconut palm sugar. The difference is that coconut palm sugar is derived from the flower buds of the coconut palm whereas traditional palm sugar is collected from the tree itself.

Palm Sugar vs. Other Sugars

The main benefit of palm sugar over other sugars is that it comes from a natural source – it is not refined and overly processed like traditional white sugar. The process of making palm sugar is also natural and uncomplicated which means that it can be paleo-friendly. Aside from being paleo-friendly, palm sugar provides a number of other benefits. This type of sugar is low-glycemic and rich in certain nutrients such as potassium, iron, zinc and Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. Though it comes in crystalline form so it can be used like regular sugar, it is unrefined. Refined sugar is processed to the point where many of its natural nutrients are lost but palm sugar still contains its original nutrient content.

How to Use Palm Sugar

Before you start to experiment with palm sugar in your recipes there are a few things you should know. Palm sugar looks and acts like traditional sugar, but it has a slightly different flavor. The flavor of palm sugar is similar to that of brown sugar with subtle butterscotch or caramel notes. Its flavor is rich and deep without leaving a metallic taste in your mouth like brown sugar sometimes does. Unfortunately, palm sugar is not a calorie-free sweetener so you do need to be careful how much of it you use in your recipes. This type of sugar contains carbohydrate but it low-glycemic which means that those carbohydrates are absorbed slowly and won’t have the same effect on your blood sugar as traditional sugar.

You can find palm sugar in health food stores and online if you know where to look. The one disadvantage of this type of sugar – like many paleo-friendly products – is its price. In the USA, palm sugar can cost as much as $8 to $10 per pound. This is just another reason to use palm sugar sparingly. As you may already know, the paleo diet is founded on wholesome and nutritious foods. And in the strictest sense, sugar is not paleo no matter what form it comes in. This is not to say that you can never eat dessert while following the paleo diet, but desserts should be an occasional treat rather than a follow-up to every meal.

In using palm sugar, you will find that it does dissolve in liquid but it may not dissolve completely. On the other hand, palm sugar does melt very easily but has a very high burn temperature – this makes it a great choice for use in confections. If you plan to make a dessert like Crème Brule, however, you may want to use a different type of sugar. In most cases, though, palm sugar can be used in similar methods and amounts as you would use traditional white sugar.

Now that you understand the basics of what palm sugar is and how it can be used, you are ready to start experimenting for yourself! Start off by substituting palm sugar for the regular sugar in a non-paleo recipe (you may need to make other substitutions as well for flour or butter). Since you already know what the finished product should be like, you will easily get a feel for how palm sugar works in the recipe. After a few experimentations you should have a good understanding of palm sugar as an ingredients and will be ready to use it in your favorite paleo recipes. You could also use other more natural sweeteners and flavorings like cinnamon and honey instead of processed sugars for a step in the right direction as well.

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