Whenever I think about writing about my Expat, Worldschooling and Travel Lifestyle, the first thing that comes to mind is food. Not only how every place has it’s own local dishes and spice styles, but also about the daily staples like sugar, coffee, salt, even flour. They are always different, and some are essentially the same.

Today I want to talk about sugar, if there is ONE thing I could say about sugar is that white refined sugar is all over the world and is widely used even if its terrible for you. I call it “sweet MSG”.

It was in Phuket that I discovered Coconut Sugar and Palm Sugar. Doing the research for this post I realized that these two sugars are a little different even though sometimes coconut sugar is labeled as palm sugar and vice versa.

*All the photos on this post are borrowed with due credit given as a link*

Brown Sugar

Whenever we go out for coffee we have to ask the waiters for brown sugar because the usual go to paper packets are the “sweet MSG”. The coffee in Thailand is usually sold in roadside stalls and they will prepare it for you in a plastic cup over ice, with two or three spoonfuls of extremely refined white cane sugar. It really is overwhelming. Only with the lattes and cappuccinos in the coffee shops and restaurants can you get brown sugar.

 sugar crystals used for coffee and tea

The brown sugar in Thailand is normal cane sugar, and usually comes in big chunky crystals. Big Kiddo used to love eating it straight from the bag, or served on a little plate while dad sipped his cappuccino. The brown sugar in Bali is coconut or palm sugar, and its delicious! In fact I don’t think I can go back to normal cane sugar ever again.

Coconut Sugar “Gulah Merah Kelapa”

 coconut sugar

A few weeks ago we went to the Balinese highlands to visit a coffee plantation, while we were there, an oldish man was up in the coconut palms, tapping the sap from the coconut flower buds into large plastic and bamboo containers. He wore no harness or rope and managed to climb up and down those trees in mere seconds.

We learned about how coconut sugar is tapped from the flower buds when we went to visit Big Tree Farms but had never seen it done. I was surprised at how fast the man went up and down the trees, obviously like he had been doing it for ages.

 big tree farms

The first time I encountered coconut sugar was in Thailand, you could get chunks of it at the supermarket and irregular chunks of it at the market. I learned that they melt the solid pieces into a syrup which they later use to cook and prepare signature dishes like Som Tam.

Here in Bali I buy nice big bags of powdered coconut sugar and that is all we use to sweeten things around here. Big Kiddo would it eat with a spoon if I’d let him. He sometimes sneaks some “without” me noticing.

Palm Sugar “Gulah Merah”

 palm sugar
Technically the coconut tree is a palm tree so coconut sugar is also palm sugar, but the distinction is made within the flavor and color. Coconut sugar is lighter in color than the date palm sugar which is much darker.
Both are tapped from the inflorescence of the tree’s flowers, although some palm sugar is tapped straight from the tree trunk for more effective and larger production.

Palm Sugars vs Palm Oil

Palm Oil is one of the most hated products on earth right now. Huge amounts of rainforest are being destroyed so that producers can plant palms and make millions making palm oil, in Indonesia it has greatly affected the Orangutan population. But is Palm sugar as terrible for the orangutans, other animals and ecosystems like Palm Oil is? Not really, because the palm sugar palms can be harvested for many many years, whereas palm oil plantations die out and make the earth unhealthy and almost impossible to use for anything else.
I think like many “natural” products out there, it’s a good idea to check where the product is coming from. A mass produced Palm Sugar might be coming from huge plantations that used to be rain forests. But if you buy your coconut or palm sugar from green farms, sustainable farms and organic growers then you are not harming the environment, you are in fact maintaining the jobs of those men that climb the trees to tap the flowers at the very top.

So say yes to Palm and Coconut Sugar and no to Palm Oil!

Chancaca and the sugars of my youth

When I was little I grew up with Miel de Chancaca, basically melted unrefined cane sugar syrup. I used to eat it in bread, on fruit, on pancakes, or on its own.
The tools used to make chancaca patties and palm sugar patties are really similar. Wooden slabs with rounded crevices where the hot cooked syrup is poured in to cool and set. Sometimes the farmers use overturned coconuts also.
I am pretty sure I will never eat the sweet MSG ever again.

Hey, Worldschoolers and Foodies!

Don’t you love how something as simple as sugar can be turned it into an expat foodie worldschooling story? It’s really simple actually, because I am not the only that has learned something here, so have the kids. Just seeing that man climb the coconut trees was pretty awesome for them, and learning that the syrup comes from the flowers and how coconut sugar is not the same as cane sugar. Everything is a learning opportunity, never forget that.