Palm Sugar - Is This The Secret Ingredient of Thai Food?


Palm sugar or nam taan peuk in Thai is an essential ingredient in Thai cooking. It is derived from a plant known technically as Borassus Flabelifer or commonly known as Asian palmyra palm or sugar palm.

The concentrate is produced by boiling down the sweet sap harvested from the palmyra until the sticky sugar is left. To extract the sap, there are usually climbers getting to the top of the tree to collect the sap from the slashed flower buds. It is prized for its rich caramel like flavor and creamy sweetness and is used in a lot of Thai cooking. It blends very well with fish sauce to bring out the exotic flavor of Thai food.

Apart from using it in Thai savory dishes, the rich flavor is also used extensively in making Thai sweets and desserts like Tub Tim Grob, Kluai Buad Chii, Buoy Luoy, and many others. It is one of the ingredients used to balance the flavors of curries like Green Curry, Massaman Curry or Panang Curry. In Thai curries, it is preferred over white sugar to give that sweet flavor to the dish.

The color can vary and it can be golden brown, light-colored or dark and gooey. Even the consistency and sweetness varies depending on how heavily the sugar is processed. It can range from the soft gooey and creamy beige type which is sold in plastic jars to the crystallized hard and dark brown shaped in round disks or cellophane wrapped blocks or paper wrappers.

The dark brown type is generally sweeter and more fragrant than the others. The hard type will probably need to be shaved or grated or even pounded with mortar and pestle before you can use it. The very hard ones can be softened by heating it briefly in the microwave.

It is readily available from Asian grocery stores, supermarkets or even online. It can be confusing when some people will refer to it as coconut sugar but it is actually a different product. If unavailable when you need it, you can substitute with dark brown sugar.

Store palm sugar in the same way as normal sugar, preferably in a cool dry place.

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Palm Sugar back to Thai Ingredients

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