For years I’ve had a tub of palm sugar in my pantry and have used it mainly for Indian dishes when Jaggery is called for. Jaggery comes from the sap of palm trees, such as date palms, coconut palms or sago palms. Jaggery can also come from sugar cane juice. In both cases the liquid is boiled and reduced and then used in a myriad of different sweet and savoury dishes.
But Gula Melaka is different. It is the Southeast Asian name for palm sugar but it is made from the sap of flower buds from the coconut palm or, less commonly, other palms. It can be dense and sticky and smoky tasting. It is known in English as “malacca sugar”, probably because it originated in the state of Malacca, Malaysia, which is called “Melaka” in Malay.
Traditionally, gula melaka (gula jawa in Indonesia) is made by first extracting the sap from the flower bud of a coconut tree. Several slits are cut into the bud and a pot is tied underneath to collect the sap. The sap is then boiled until it thickens. Next, the sap is poured into bamboo tubes 3–5 inches (7.6–13 cm) long and left to solidify to form cylindrical cake blocks. Due to the labour involved in production, it is often more expensive than caster sugar. It is used in some savoury dishes but mainly in the local desserts and cakes of the Southeast Asian region.
I remembered that as well as Jaggery, I also had some coconut sugar in my pantry and went off to check what type it was. Big pleasant surprise, I had, quite unintentionally, managed to buy a coconut sugar which says, Ingredients: ‘Coconut sugar from flower nectar’. I think Harvest should market its Coconut Sugar as Gula Melaka!
You’ll generally find this ingredient is used most often in recipes for Sago Pudding. But it makes a delicious syrup in its own right and goes with salted coconut milk and shaved ice, or ice-cream.