Thetraveljunkie.org – While I was in Samut Songkhram, I attended an 1 hour, private how to make Thai coconut palm sugar — a famous quality product of Samut Songkhram.
A place where palm sugar is made is called “Tao Tan”. Before white sugar crystals became ubiquitous, Thais generally sweetened their food with sugar made from the sap of the sugar palm or coconut tree.
When a coconut tree is about 3-4 years old, its spaces are cut, so that farmers can collect its sweet sap, then they simmer it over a fire until it becomes brown and dry.
The process begins by tapping the young flowering buds of the coconut tree. The Guru climbing a tree, armed with a machete and a few long can-like tubes slung over his shoulder.
He shaves the tip off a fruiting bud and after the sap begins to flow, hangs the tube below it to collect the liquid.
Depending on how much the trees are producing, it can take a few hours to fill the tube, which also contains wood chips that naturally prevent the sap from fermenting.
We were offered some of the freshly gathered sap and it was watery and sweet, and had a slightly musty, yeast-like odour.
The sap is gathered twice a day, and if the trees are neglected for too long, the buds will flower instead, eventually resulting in coconuts.
After all the bamboos are collected, the sap is filtered through a cloth into large woks positioned above a long stove.
A fire is lit, which in a tidy cycle is fueled by sugar palm leaves, and the sap is left to boil for about an hour until its volume has been reduced by approximately two-thirds.
The constantly evaporating water carries the yeasty odour of the sap, making the work area smell not unlike a brewery.
After about an hour and a half the once watery sap had stopped foaming and had changed in form to a simmering liquid the consistency and colour of a dark syrup.
It was poured into another nearby wok where, using a special tool, it was stirred and eventually whipped for about ten minutes.
This process introduces air into the sap, effectively crystallising the sugar and providing it with a pale colour and a slightly gritty paste-like texture.
The sugar is then scraped into small metal bowls or a large metal tin known as a nam taan peep or tin sugar where it’s allowed to cool and solidify even more.
If kept relatively cool, the sugar will maintain its solid state, otherwise it will gradually melt back into a thick syrup.
The final product has an attractive blond colour and a fragrant smell, and is not overwhelmingly sweet, with a savoury and even slightly salty flavour.
And, you can buy a bag of coconut sugar in its crystallized form for 40 baht.
Overall, it was an excellent learning experience. And I completely recommend it!
Happy Sustainable Travels!