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Palm Sugar Block

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Palm sugar block is unrefined sugar and has a delicious toffee-like, almost caramelized flavor, with a smoky flavor and rich aroma. It is a very common type of sugar used in Indonesian cooking.

palm sugar block or gula jawa

Other Names

  • Gula jawa or Javanese sugar (Indonesian)
  • Gula merah or red sugar (Indonesian)
  • Gula aren (Indonesian)
  • Gula melaka or malacca sugar (Malay)

There is a specific difference in palm sugar naming in Indonesia. If it is made from coconut, it is called gula jawa or gula merah. On the other hand, gula aren refers to palm sugar that is specifically made from the sap of aren palm flower buds.

What is Palm Sugar Block?

Palm sugar block is a natural sweetener made from the sap or nectar collected from the flower buds of several species of palm trees. The sugar can be made from a variety of palm trees, including palmyra, date, toddy, nipa, sugar, and coconut palms. The extracted sap is boiled to remove as much moisture as possible to produce a thick, concentrated sticky syrup. The boiled sap is then poured into molds to cool off. It will solidify and crystallize over time. 

Palm sugar is considered a healthier alternative to other sweeteners because its production involves minimal processing with no added chemicals. Because it’s unrefined, it also retains high levels of plant-based vitamins and minerals that can benefit your health.

What Does Palm Sugar Taste Like?

Depending on how it is processed, palm sugar block can appear brown, golden (in Thailand), to almost black. It also comes in many different shapes, sizes, tastes, and textures. They are defined by many elements, from nature to craftsmanship playing dominant roles. Thus, the characteristic taste of palm sugar varies from region to region. 

In general, the flavor of palm sugar is reminiscent of caramel and may have a smoky flavor and butterscotch notes. It tastes complex and is less sweet than refined white sugar and brown sugar.

Where to Buy

You can find palm sugar blocks in well-stocked supermarkets, Asian groceries, or online. They are formed into discs, blocks, or solid mass in plastic jars.

How to Choose Palm Sugar Block

Pure palm sugar block is supposed to be made only from the sap of palm trees. However, some manufacturers add cane sugar so they can produce larger quantities and sell at a lower price. It is not always a bad thing, but some people usually prefer them pure for more flavor depth.

Here are things to consider when choosing a good quality palm sugar block:

  • Dark color. The deep brown color palm sugar usually tastes richer and deeper than the light-colored ones.
  • Not too hard, not too soft texture. When buying palm sugar blocks, press the sugar with your fingernail. The good ones should be easily shaved. The hard blocks have likely been mixed with cane sugar.
  • Sweet aroma. The purer palm sugar tends to smell much more fragrant.

How to Store

Keep palm sugar block in a dark, dry, and cool place and it should last for years. Palm sugar block melts easily once the packaging is open, so make sure it is well sealed if you open it and don’t use it all at once. 


The best substitute for palm sugar is brown sugar. This is the easiest option you can find in most grocery stores. A mixture of white sugar, molasses, and maple syrup can also be a good palm sugar replacement.

How to Use

Palm sugar block can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It must be chopped or shaved with a knife into crumbs. If the block is way too hard, you can place it in a small bowl with a teaspoon of water and microwave briefly for short intervals of 15-20 seconds to soften it. 

how to shave or chop palm sugar block

Recipes with Palm Sugar Block

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