Hidden Treasure Series- Palm Sugar, A Little Known Superfood All The Way From India!

I am planning to introduce a new series in my blog, called "Hidden Treasures", where I will write about the indigenous food/herbs that are extremely high in nutritional value but never got the attention they deserve.

In the course of time, we are losing many things that we've been using for thousands of years to those that are marketed as "healthy" and "low fat/calorie". We have traded idlis and millet porridge for corn flakes and masala oats, coconut oil and ghee for "trans fat free" canola oil and corn oil, and a dangerous cocktail of chemicals for naturally occurring sugars and are happy about huge hospitals and "healthcare" cities emerging in all nooks and corners of the cities.

Many of us are aware that sugar consumption is one of the leading causes of obesity and big companies are capturing this segment of the "health conscious" market. The Global Artificial Sweetener market is worth billions of dollars and the big brands like Splenda, Equal and Nutrasweet are moving towards emerging markets like India and other countries in Middle East and South East Asia where the increasing diabetic and obese population provide a great market opportunity for their products. Millions and even billions of dollars are spent on the Research and Development of various cheap artificial sweeteners other than the saccharin and aspartame like sucralose and neotame, which are several thousand times sweeter than white sugar with the only claim of being low in calories. This only reminds of the famous image quote which was going rounds on social media sometime back- "There are many people counting calories but not enough who count chemicals".

Having said that sugar consumption is bad for health and opting for artificial sweetener is even worse, we are left with the question of what to use as a replacement for sugar. A lot of us will immediately think of honey, but let us remember that real, raw honey is very precious and comes after a lot of hard of work, so it is best to use them wisely, especially for medicinal/healing purposes and not as a sugar alternative. The answer is to find what was that original, natural sweetener/sugar which was replaced by white sugar, so the best way to find out is asking one's parents/grandparents about what they used to sweeten their food.

As for me, it is the little known super food called Karupatti/Panankarkandu, or Palm Sugar/Palm Candy. I am calling it a super food because it is not just a natural sugar, but a food that is packed with rare minerals and vitamins and extremely beneficial for our overall health.

Karupatti or Palm Sugar is not to be confused with coconut sugar and sugarcane jaggery. The Sugar Palm tree, or Panai maram, as it is called in Tamil is one of the native trees of my beautiful state of Tamil Nadu. The palm sugar is made from boiling the sweet sap collected from the  inflorescence of the female Asian Palmyra Tree or the Sugar Palm tree (panai maram in Tamil). The crystallized form of palm sugar is called Palm Candy or Panankarkandu.  Watch this video to know the beautiful process of palm sugar in the making.

As you can see from the video, the making of Palm Sugar/ Palm Jaggery is absolutely natural and involves no chemical processing in any form. Palm Sugar is one of the products of the very sustainable cottage industry and is made by small farmers who spend laborious hours in bringing out this valuable bounty of nature. There are numerous health benefits associated with the consumption of Palm Sugar and it is considered to be one of the best super foods. It is rich in many vitamins and is also one of the vegan sources of Vitamin B12. It has a low glycemic index of 38-41. It is no wonder why it is called the medicinal sugar! Palm Sugar or Karupatti is known to strengthen our bones and is especially good for new mothers. It is believed to cleanse the womb of all impurities following childbirth and is a great source of iron. It is gentle on stomach and almost all of the Siddha medicines are prepared out of Palm Sugar for it's apparent nutritional value. Karupatti kaapi or coffee sweetened with Palm Sugar/Jaggery is a very famous drink in the southern part of Tamil Nadu, in an around Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. A lot of dishes and desserts are made combining Palm Jaggery and coconut and the mother of them all is the Garlic Milk, which is given to the new mother to enhance her milk production and also to detoxify her body. My mother used to say they hardly ever used white sugar and I was surprised to find that there is in fact no word for white sugar in Tamil! It is either called jeeni or sarkkarai, where the former is a Hindi word and the latter, from Arabic (Sukkar). 

Having said all this, it is time to make some confessions. Being someone who was born and raised in Chennai, I only grew up eating sugar. It was only during our visits to our native villages in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts we ever had the opportunity to taste the karupatti or puttu karupatti,the palm jaggery which used to be in small coin like shapes. I remember that sweet, earthy smell of the boxes made out of dried palm leaves which I only got to experience in my native place. Palm candy was only given to us in the form of masala milk when we get cold or a cough. It was found in those quaint old herbal medicine shops and we almost forgot such a thing existed until I came to Dubai. My husband had a persistent dry cough and he was advised to drink that golden milk with palm candy regularly to ease his suffering. 

Again, in the passage of time, we forgot about it completely until I found a neat, beautiful pack of BON Organics Palm Sugar at a local organic store (Organic Paradise) in Chennai back in 2014. I was thinking of numerous things to do with it when I packed in my bag, and the first thing I did was to replace the white sugar in my morning cup of tea. I can't do without a ginger-cardamom tea in the morning and I like it sweet. I always had to battle with the feeling of guilt after gulping down the tea for taking the sugar. However, the guilt transformed to happiness when I found that my tea actually tasted much better with the Organic Palm Sugar! Alhamdhulillah, praise be to the Almighty, I am so glad and thankful for having found such a lovely product, which not only brought back sweet memories of my childhood days, but also made our transition from white sugar to a natural sweetener easier!

Palm Sugar/Palm Candy is also very good for treating sore throat and flu, especially in children. A mix of dried ginger and a lot of palm candy in milk will work wonders for treating the ailment in children. They are safe as a sweetener even for babies as young as 6 months old, going by the traditional wisdom. If there is anything that you may have to worry about, it is only the natural impurities like tits and bits of sand which will be present, as it is only made using methods that are closer to our beautiful earth, the way it has been created by Allah, the Almighty!

BON Organics Palm Sugar is available in both crystal and powdered form, and if you happen to only find the crystallized version, you can always give it a quick run in your coffee grinder to get a powdery texture. It blends absolutely well with any dish that you may think of, and if you are concerned about the natural impurities present it, you can always melt and strain it! 

I hope you have sweet day ahead! Insha Allah! I will try post some recipes that go well with the Palm Sugar. 

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