As a cocktail barman, watching global health and lifestyle trends is something I am passionate about. I have therefore become curious about which sugar alternatives work best for the creation of delicious cocktails. Naturally, honey and agave are great choices. However, living in Singapore means I am exposed to other excellent options which can be found locally, such as palm sugar and jaggery.
Palm sugar is a sweetener created from the sap of date, coconut, and/or nipa palms. These trees are found in the subtropics and their sugar is produced by extracting the sap from palm flowers. The sweetener can be purchased in its natural form or as crystallized solids of varying shapes and sizes.
Similar to date, palm sap, and cane juice, the palm sugar is slowly cooked to evaporate the liquid and form sugar to create jaggery. The sap and/or cane juice are cooked together with the molasses and as a result, the color of jaggery sweetener varies from light and golden to dark brown. In addition to being a food, jaggery may be used as a natural fabric dye and can be mixed together with buttermilk and mustard oil to season the inside of tandoor ovens.
Jaggery and palm sugar are very common ingredients and can be found under numerous names including gula melaka, gula apong, gula jawa, gula merah, panocha, namtan tanont to name a few. Jaggery is less sweet than maple syrup (once melted), and it has a slightly thicker consistency than honey and a rich brown sugar-like flavour. Palm sugar flavours vary from a mild caramel taste to a slightly savory one. In many ways, the flavour is similar to natural molasses but lighter.
These types of sweeteners are commonly used in the preparation of traditional South and South-East Asian dishes. Both jaggery and palm sugar are traditionally used for making curries, sauces, and desserts (such as ice cream). However, the taste profile of palm sugar and jaggery varies across the different regions. For example, in Indonesia, many locals are very careful when it comes to pairing single-origin palm sugar or jaggery with traditional dishes, so as to create an authentic taste. Palm sugar and jaggery are also widely produced and utilized in Pakistan, India and across Africa, New Guinea, and several regions of the Pacific ocean. Within these locations, both palm sugar and jaggery can be sourced at roadside stalls and local markets.
One of my favorite beverages is Jaggery Iced Tea that can be easily spiced up with a little bit of rum, gin, whiskey, or brandy.
Jaggery Iced Tea
2 Bags of English Breakfast Tea 600 ml Still Water 100 g Golden Brown Jaggery (as opposed to dark brown)* 2 Whole Calamansi Citrus**
Bring the water to boil and add the 2 tea bags to macerate for 3 minutes.
Once the tea is macerated, take off the tea bags and switch off the heat, add the jaggery, and stir until dissolved.
Once the jaggery is dissolved let it cool down at room temperature, squeeze the juice of calamansi and combine.
Bottle the tea and keep it refrigerated. This will last for 2 days in the refrigerator.
When ready to serve, pour the tea over ice and garnish it with a slice of citrus and mint.
*Note: Adjust the amount of jaggery based on your preference and sweet tooth.
**Calamansi is citrus readily available across Southeast Asia. If you do not have access simply replace it with lime or lemon.
Lastly, feel free to add 50 ml of preferred booze to indulge yourself. This is perfect for an afternoon bbq or sunny hot day. :)