Oh, sugar

 sago with palm sugar syrup

When I was growing up, there were only two types of sugar in our house: white and brown. It was only after I started cooking for myself and became interested in cuisines different that what I was familiar with that I discovered there are many plants that can produce sugar beyond sugar cane and sugar beets. Knowing what to do with all of these varieties was more daunting than finding out they existed, however. Thankfully we have people like Max Falkowitz of indexed website Serious Eats to help us learn the differences in raw sugars

As Falkowitz notes, sugar is a wonderful souvenir to bring back from an exotic vacation (I think salt is, too). Whether it is gula melaka (palm sugar), jaggery, piloncillo or another type of raw sugar, he notes that these “burnished reductions of cane or palm juice are rife with impurities that grant them a remarkable depth of flavor.”

In addition to being more flavorful than the processed white stuff, they are less sweet, which makes them better suited for adding a bit of sweetness to savory dishes. Unlike many ingredients you may be tempted to bring home from a vacation or even a market, these don’t spoil and generally don’t degrade much over time, although the blocks may get hard. A few seconds in the microwave can usually bring them back around. 

Falkowitz provides a list of applications where these raw sugars can be used to enhance dishes. Desserts are a natural, of course, but he also offers suggestions for savory items, especially Indian and Thai foods. Raw sugar can help tame fiery chile peppers, and it is also perfect for boosting the flavor of chutneys and sauces. 

Photo of Sago with palm sugar syrup (Sago gula melaka) from Food Safari by Maeve O’Meara

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