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Coconut sugar is a delicious sweetener made from the nectar of the coconut or toddy palm flowers. It has been used as a traditional sweetener for hundreds of years in Thailand and it is not limited to only dessert, but can also be used in a variety of savory dishes.
In Thailand, coconut sugar (also known as coconut palm sugar) is used to balance out and enhance flavor of various savory dishes like Pad Thai, Green Curry, Chicken Satay and many more.
Not to mention countless traditional desserts and drinks such as Mango Sticky Rice, Bua Loy (Rice Balls in Coconut Milk), Coconut Ice cream, Thai Glass Jelly in Syrup or Thai Milk Tea that contain coconut sugar.
Plain coconut sugar is subtly sweet and tastes similar to brown sugar with notes of butterscotch and caramel. Despite its name and origin, coconut sugar does not taste like coconut at all.
Compared with white sugar, coconut sugar is produced in only two steps and is less refined and processed. (You can read more about how coconut sugar is produced in our article Coconut Sugar, a touch of natural sweetness).
This also makes the color, sweetness consistency and flavor more varied depending on the coconut species used, when and where it was harvested and on how long it is boiled. Coconut sugar in Thailand comes in a variety of forms - crystalized, granules, paste, syrup, powder or blocks.
Nowadays many people talk about the health benefits of coconut sugar, but before we learn the scientific facts about it the main reason to use coconut sugar is -- it gives a better taste and aroma to the food. In Thailand, high quality and pure coconut sugar may contain a beautiful floral aroma that adds more than sweetness to the dishes.
Many Thai chefs when cooking traditional recipes still prefer to use coconut sugar rather than refined white sugar since the natural ingredient can add more depth and dimension of flavor to the plates and bring out an authentic Thai taste. When we talk about its health benefits, coconut sugar is a healthier option compared with typical white sugar since it is less processed and it still preserves small quantities of minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium.
It also has a lower glycaemic index which lower the chances of a blood sugar spike. If you want a plant-based and minimally processed sweetener, coconut sugar is the ideal choice. It is also a good ingredient for vegan diets.
However, coconut sugar isn't a magical food, it is still sugar and contains high energy and high calories. So if you are going to use coconut sugar, use it in moderation.
Coconut sugar tastes similar to brown sugar, both have a caramel-like flavor, so it is a perfect substitute for brown sugar or in any recipes that call for a caramel taste. In general, coconut sugar can replace refined white or brown sugar including in tea or coffee or baking and cooking.
However, it is a darker sugar, so it might not be a good choice for food or baked goods that need to maintain a pale or clear color.
To use coconut sugar as a substitute for regular sugar, simply measure it at a one-to-one ratio.
Alternatively, if you want to cut back on sugar and calories, you could use ½ cup coconut sugar and ½ stevia or xylitol for a recipe which calls for 1 cup sugar.
There is an extensive list of Thai food that you can use coconut sugar, but here are some ideas that we recommend.
Marinade and Rubs for Thai grills.
Simply combine oyster sauce with fish sauce and coconut sugar in a bowl and you will get a delicious marinade for your BBQ or grilled meat. The sugar helps balance out the salty flavor of the sauces and add a hint of caramelized taste to the meat when grilled. This mixture is versatile and can be used to marinade any kind of meat, pork, beef chicken or seafood. A good example of grilled meat use in the recipe is Weeping Tiger, a beef sirloin in an irresistible spicy Thai marinade.
Five-Spice Egg & Pork Belly Stew.
The stew is known locally as “Moo Palo.” This all-time Thai favorite stew originated in China and introduced to the local Thais by Chinese immigrants in the early nineteenth century. Hard boiled eggs and tender pork belly are simmered in a fragrant, sweet-salty broth made from soy sauce, coconut sugar and a five-spice blend.
Sweet and Sour Stir-fried Dishes.
You can use coconut sugar in almost any stir-fried dishes, especially those dishes that lean into sweet and sour palates like Pad Thai Noodles, Thai Pineapple Fried Rice, or Stir-Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts. The sugar has a subtler and gentler sweetness than table sugar and balance the flavors for a more harmonious taste.
Use coconut sugar instead of regular sugar and you will get a tastier and healthier salad dressing. Try our recipes of Chicken Salad with spicy salad dressing and Pomelo Salad which is very juicy and refreshing.
Rice with Chinese BBQ Pork with sweet gravy.
This dish is called “Khao Moo Dang" in Thai. It is one of the most popular street foods which you can find almost everywhere in Thailand. Normally prepared and served as a one-dish meal consisting of steamed rice topped with Chinese BBQ pork. But what makes this dish unique to Thailand is the savory-sweet gravy made from cornstarch or tapioca starch, soy sauce, sweet soy sauces, and coconut sugar.
Thai desserts and snacks.
Most traditional Thai desserts and snacks contain coconut sugar, including famous Mango Sticky Rice, egg-yolk based desserts like Thong Yip or Thong Yod, or coconut milk dessert like Lod Chong and Bua Loy, not to mention many other ice creams, pudding or drinks. You can also add coconut sugar to Thai-twist desserts like Thai Coconut Flan or Sweet Spring Rolls.
Where to buy coconut sugar?
You can usually find coconut sugar at health shops or local Asian markets. But if you want a premium quality product with that authentic Thai flavor, you can order from our SIAM online shop where the coconut sugar is delivered from Thailand directly to your door.