What is palm sugar?
Palm sugar is produced from the sap of palm trees (primarily date, sago, palmyra and coconut palms) that is boiled down to a thick mass, then left to cool and harden. The result is an unrefined sugar with hints of caramel flavour that is usually less sweet than cane sugar. The longer the sap is cooked, the darker and richer the sugar becomes. Palm sugars can range in colour (from pale brown to almost black) and texture (soft and crumbly to hard) depending on how it has been processed.
Where can you buy palm sugar?
Is palm sugar healthy?
Health benefits of palm sugar are minimal. As palm sugar is largely unrefined it can contain vitamins and trace minerals. Palm sugar is often sold as coconut sugar, which is often marketed as a “healthier” alternative to cane sugar, however they contain the same number of calories and carbohydrates – approximately 15 calories and four grams of carbohydrate per teaspoon. Coconut sugar has a lower GI (glycemic index) than regular sugar thanks to a fibre called inulin, which helps keep blood sugar levels consistent. Some suggest that as coconut sugar is around 70 percent sucrose with less fructose and glucose, it’s healthier but there’s little evidence to back up the claim. You’re better off reducing your sweetener intake than making expensive swaps.
What can you substitute palm sugar with?
There are a number of palm sugar alternative that you can use instead.
1. Brown sugar
Brown sugar is one of the best palm sugar replacements. Brown sugar has the denser, stickier consistency of many palm sugars however it is significantly sweeter so generally you won't need to use as much when baking or cooking. Additionally, some bakers suggest adding a tablespoon of molasses to a cup of brown sugar, which is equivalent to a cup of palm sugar.
2. Maple sugar or maple syrup
Like palm sugar, maple sugar is reduced from sap and it produces a caramelised, butterscotch flavour similar to that of palm sugar. If you can't get your hands on maple sugar, maple syrup can also be used.
3. Date sugar
Not to be confused with date palm sugar, date sugar is made from dehydrated dates that are ground to resemble granulated sugar. It has a sweet, caramel-like flavour, making it a suitable one-for-one replacement for palm sugar when baking and cooking. You can also make your own date sugar at home. Keep in mind that is won't dissolve like palm sugar due to the fibrous nature of dates.
4. White sugar and molasses
If you're out of brown sugar, white sugar can be used as a palm sugar alternative when mixed with a stickier substance like molasses to improve its consistency and give it a greater depth of flavour. Mix one cup of white sugar and two tablespoons of molasses, but use less when replacing palm sugar as it is quite a bit sweeter.