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Coconut sugar is the most popular form of sweetener in Thailand. This brown unrefined delight comes from the coconut palm, which grows freely across the country. Coconut sugar has been used in Thai cuisine for centuries, long before anyone had seen the standard granulated white sugar we tend to use today. This natural ingredient has much more depth of flavour compared with standard sugar and is also a healthier option.
The traditional process for making coconut sugar starts with a brave and agile farmer climbing the coconut palm and cutting into the flower bud. This releases a milky sap, which is collected through bamboo tubes and transferred into a big pot. It’s then boiled down for several hours until the water evaporates leaving behind a sugary syrup. Finally, it’s left to harden in a mould and, once cooled, it’s ready to use right away.
It can vary considerably in sweetness, colour and consistency from plant to plant and based on how long it is boiled for. In fact, sugar cane can have a soft fudge-like texture or be as hard as rock, and it can range from beige to dark brown.
Coconut sugar originates from the sap of a flower bud. On the other hand, the sugar we consume every day comes from pressing and extracting the juice of the sugar cane plant.
Compared with cane sugar, coconut sugar is a healthier option as it preserves small quantities of minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium. It also has a lower glycaemic index, meaning a lower impact on the sugar levels in the blood. These qualities along with the fact it’s considered more natural as it doesn’t go through all the chemical process as refined sugar, is making it an increasingly popular choice in kitchens throughout the world.
In Thailand, it’s widely used in both desserts and savoury dishes. Traditional desserts such as Sweet Spring Rolls, Coconut Flan and Sticky Rice Pudding all contain coconut sugar.
Moreover, it’s often added to savoury Thai staples like Pad Thai, Green Curry, Satay Chicken and Green Papaya Salad to balance out and enhance flavour. Not to mention the countless sauces and glazes that include it. So to get that authentic Thai depth of flavour don’t forget to add the secret ingredient: a sprinkle of natural sugar cane.