Increased awareness of the risks of excessive refined sugar intake is bringing forth many positive changes. Natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, coconut sugar, molasses and rice syrup are now part of modern health-conscious life.
Coconut sugar is popular for its pleasant taste and low glycemic index. Plus it contains trace minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium and zinc.
As it’s also known as coconut blossom sugar or coconut palm sugar, it’s sometimes confused with another sweetener: palm sugar.
In this article I explain about the differences between coconut sugar and palm sugar.
Let’s first look at their similarities.
Both sugars are natural sweeteners derived from palm trees.They can be made into sugar as well as syrup. Both are naturally sweet and have a low glycemix index.
Coconut sugar and palm sugar have been traditionally used in Asia throughout history.
They can be further processed into products such as alcoholic beverages and vinegar.
The difference between coconut sugar and palm sugar
– Coconut sugar comes from the nectar of the flower buds of the coconut palm.
Palm sugar comes from the trunk sap of sugar palms such as the Arenga pinnata palm.
– Coconut sugar has a lighter color than palm sugar. It comes in different shades of gold-brown, while palm sugar is a much darker brown.
– Coconut sugar has a mild caramel taste. Palm sugar has a more pronounced caramel meets smoky taste and a more intense fragrance.
– When I was traveling in Indonesia, palm sugar was cheaper than coconut sugar.
I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere.
If you’re in doubt, ask the producer if it’s Arenga sugar or coconut sugar.
Can you substitute coconut sugar for palm sugar?
Although they are similar, some traditional dishes require a particular sugar.
If a recipe specifically calls for palm sugar it’s for its intense, smoky taste.
Coconut sugar will give the dish a milder taste.
If you use palm sugar instead of coconut sugar in a recipe, the flavor will come out stronger.
The taste also differs according to region. Indonesian palm sugar for example is stronger in taste and darker than Thai palm sugar.
Palm sugar produced abroad (outside of Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines etc.) is often not pure. They mix it with cane sugar or another sugar and the flavor is less pronounced.
How sustainable are coconut sugar and palm sugar?
Coconut sugar is made from the flower buds of the coconut tree.
Once you cut them off for sugar production, they can’t grow into coconuts.
Growing both coconuts and flower buds for coconut sugar production from the same tree at the same time is doesn’t work.
The Crop Science Society of the Philippines experimented with this. They grew coconut trees for coconut sap production for a short period of time and then switched to growing coconuts.
This resulted in 50% less coconuts than with trees that only grew coconuts.
Their research was published in 1993 when they mainly used coconut sap to produce traditional products such as toddy, coconut wine and vinegar. This was years before coconut sugar became so popular internationally.
Palm sugar on the other hand is derived from the palm trunk. The Arenga pinnata palm is able to live on infertile, eroded soils. Not only is it six times as productive as sugar cane, it also improves the ecosystem of forest floors and removes CO2 from the atmosphere.
While the palm oil industry is very unsustainable and damages rainforest, palm sugar production is a sustainable practice. Especially with current developments.
Willie Smits is a sugar palm expert who has been creating valuable initiatives to make palm sugar production more sustainable by using steam instead of wood. This saves about 200.000 trees per year!
Willie is involved in various reforestation and community programs in Indonesia with his organization Masarang.
Which sugar should you use?
Coconut sugar and palm sugar have their similarities as well as their own characteristics.
If you’re looking for a specific taste for a traditional Asian dish, follow the recipe.
Otherwise they are both very tasty and healthier than refined sugar.
Out of the two, palm sugar is the most sustainable option.
Other articles about coconut sugar:
Is coconut sugar a healthier alternative to regular sugar?
How I drastically minimized my refined sugar intake.