Palm sugar, also known by various regional names like gur and jiggery, is popularly used throughout Southeast Asia. Originally, palm sugar was manufactured from the sap of Palmyra palm, the sugar date palm or the date palm. Nowadays, it is also prepared from the sap of the nipa palm and the Arenga pinnata (sugar palm). Due to this, it may also be known by the name “arenga sugar”. To make palm sugar, several slits are made into the stem of a palm tree and the sap is collected. The sap is boiled to the point where it thickens.
You should not confuse palm sugar with coconut sugar, which is prepared from the sap of cut flower buds of the coconut palm and not from the sap of the tree.
The color of palm sugar varies from light golden to rich dark brown. It is minimally processed and tends to be very grainy. The dried forms of palm sugar are highly crumbly. As it is lightly processed, the flavor of the sugar is left intact, and it has an almost molasses-like flavor. Sometimes it is also marketed as ‘palm honey’. Palm sugar is not only used in cooking, but also treated to produce palm wine and arrack, which is a type of strong distilled liquor. It is quite popular in some areas of Southeast Asia.
Palm sugar is easily available in Asian markets and can also be ordered by specialty retailers. It is often sold in jars and tins, therefore, it is easy to store and ship. For shipping, the blocks or cones are often coated in wax. Hence, before taking the desire quantity of sugar, check and remove the wax coating.
In case you are cooking a recipe that requires palm sugar and you are not able to find it, you can use dark brown sugar and mix a small amount of molasses in it to create the desired level of moisture and to intensify the flavor.