Is Palm Sugar / Coconut Sugar Bad For Us & The Environment?

Sweet coconut sugar in spoon.

Today when many people hear the word Palm in the name of a product, they normally think of the devastating palm oil industry, however if you are one of these people (as I was when I first heard about it) you can relax because palm sugar and coconut sugar come from entirely different palm trees.

Palm trees used in production of oil are specific for oil production, the sugar that comes from coconuts comes from the coconut palm tree only by method of picking and processing the flower buds, and the sugar that comes from palm sugar, is collected from the sap of the date palm tree (dates as in the type of fruit).

This means that coconut sugar already comes from two very common and popular trees, the coconut tree and the date palm tree. There is no devastating problems with using date palm and coconut based products, and further than this, there may actually be some benefits to consuming this type of sugar.

For those not aware of the meaning behind GI rating numbers, basically a rating of 100 means that the product / sugar you are eating will enter your bloodstream immediately and cause a huge insulin spike, putting pressure on your body and pancreas. A GI rating of 50 means that the load on your body is 50% as much as the 100 rated product, therefore enters the body in half the speed and causes a smaller though longer insulin spike. Low GI ratings are anything from a rating of between 55 and 0. High GI is anywhere from 56 to 100. White sugar obtains a GI rating of 68, while brown sugar produces a rating of 64.

More and more Australians are looking for ways to lower or regulate their sugar intake. Currently the lowest GI cane sugar is a product called CSR Sugar Logicane (Low GI Cane), this product is made using more of the original cane than is in other types of brown sugar, a by-product of the sugar cane processing helps to lower the GI level. The GI of this sugar cane product is around 49 to 55. Eating pure sugar cane from the plant doesn’t cause a huge insulin spike and is relatively healthy, so the addition of these parts of the sugar cane back into the sugar is able to provide a lower GI brown sugar.

While a GI rating of 49 to 55 for GI in the CSR Logicane is the best available for a sugar cane based product, there is a hidden secret in another product many of us either have never heard of or don’t understand and therefore do not purchase, that is the palm and coconut sugars first mentioned in this article.

The Glycemic Index / GI rating for Palm sugar is between 35 and 54, while the GI rating for Coconut Sugar is also 35 to 54. Most Palm Sugar and Coconut Sugar products do not show any Glycemic Index rating on the packaging, that is because its possible to have a fairly large variance between batches, since neither are a heavily refined sugar product, their consistency varies from batch to batch.

Since Palm sugar and Coconut sugar is made up of sucrose, glucose and fructose, the GI will decrease the more fructose is present, as fructose has a GI of only 19. Sucrose however has a GI of 65 on it’s own, and glucose has a GI of 100. The combination of these together in one form produces an overall GI of 35 to 54 for all palm sugar and coconut sugar products.

While at the moment the cost of palm sugar and coconut sugar is fairly high, ranging from about $16 AUD to $10 AUD per kilogram in the mainstream shops and are a fine light brown powder. The original version from asia however is a solid formed sugar which you need to crush or grate yourself as it is needed.

You can find the original product produced in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia at most asian supermarkets. The original is often labelled as Palm Sugar Cake or just Palm Cake when in english, however the original name varies between regions of the world, the most common terms are gula jawa or simply Jaggery. Beware however, as Jaggery can be made from sugar cane as well as date palms. Look for the mention of the word coconut of palm / date palm on the packaging.

palm sugar coconut sugar gi glycemic index rating
Jaggery is found in both Sugar Cane versions and Palm versions, this article focuses on the Palm version, the sugar looks almost identical to the sugar cane version (above)

The best thing about date/coconut/palm sugar is the taste, it has a semi sweet taste with a hint of caramel along with a malty or slightly spicy taste to it. It is fairly different from all other sugar products on the market, and the texture is very fine and dissolves easily. When cooking with this type of sugar though you may need to add extra to cater for the lower sweetness of this sugar compared to more refined sugar products.

While the GI is around or slightly lower than the lowest GI cane sugar on the market, the price prohibits us from using it more locally. This sugar can be harvested from all coconut palm trees and palm trees which produce dates, meaning it can be easily incorporated into our diet at a lower cost if popularity of the product was to rise.

Until then, coconut sugar can be found at most supermarkets in the sugar section at a price of around $4 per 250 grams, or you can buy the original solid form for around $5 per 1KG from Asian supermarkets.

Roy Ellery

Roy Ellery

Roy Ellery is the founder and creator of Adore Australia, he lives in Melbourne, Australia. Roy is a professional website developer by trade, and runs the Adore Australia blog as a hobby.

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