Palm Sugar

A big part of our fermentation project is to branch out to our local community. A huge resource of ours is the Kul Kul Farm, run by Orin Hardy just a few hundred meters from our gates. From our mentors, we learned that Orin is an expert in the extraction of palm sap for the production of palm sugar. And, since we were interested in fermentation, we thought he could teach us about the extraction process of tuak arin, a local black palm wine. Upon our arrival, we quickly realized that palm sugar production is the more intricate process and that tuak is sometimes an unfortunate byproduct.

Kul Kul Farm sign next to Green School

Orin’s Kul Kul farm is well known in our community for producing organic fresh produce and palm sugar. In the fermentation team’s eyes he was the perfect resource for tapping into the cycle of sap extraction for the production of tuak made from coconut tree and black palm tree sap. But, when we entered Orin’s lab, he informed us that tuak is merely a rotting vat of potential sugar, and that the unfermented sap is where the magic comes from when producing palm sugar.

The creation of palm sugar is incredible, the process from tree to jarred sugar happens in a matter of hours, in a single sitting, and what determines weather the palm sap has passed its prime is a mechanism called a refractometer.

Refractometer used to measure sugar content

The long cylinder can determine the amount of sugar there is in a body of liquid and will allow a producer to have a consistent product when working in the field of sweets. The extracted sap must be between 15% — 18% sugar content to make the sugar, and the spoiled sap will contain around 13% or less and will have a alcoholic fragrance to it.

Leg straps used for climbing coconut trees
Raw sap prom coconut tree ready for production

To extract the sap from the palm tree, a person must climb up the tree either using the steel mechanism above — using friction to keep the person attached to the tree — or by just free climbing up the tree. The sap is drained from the flower of the tree by cutting the end of the pod and draining the sap into a bamboo container that will then be brought to the refinery. The Bamboo container cannot be treated with chemicals due to a future heating process. To prevent contamination, the climbers use a home made antibiotic to keep the sap clean and uncontaminated when sitting in the treetops. The homemade antibiotic is made from a mix of calcium hydroxide mixed and mangostine juice, which is then coated in the inside of the bamboo container.

Container used to collecting sap

The sap is then brought to the kitchen where it’s tested for Ph levels and sugar content. This is where the refractometer comes to use as the cooks can determine weather the sap has a high enough sugar content to start production. If it does, the liquid sap is brought to a boiler where it is slowly heated. When the water in the brew is evaporated, all that will be left is a brown soupy liquid that is poured into a cast to make bricks called jaggery sugar. If you go a step further you can create granulated sugar, which is delicious!

Fresh sugar form coconut tree sap
Burners for heating sap into sugar