Palm Sugar

Ark of taste
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Palm Sugar

Gula Apong

Palm sugar, or gula apong, is the sweet substance processed from the sap of the nipah palm, Nypa fruticans. Nipah palm grows naturally and abundantly along the coastal areas throughout Sarawak. The plant sap is tapped from palms that are at least five years old. The sap is harvested by making a cut on the flower to allow the sap to flow into bamboo containers. The sap is then boiled for 6 to 8 hours with continuous stirring to evaporate the water content. About 10 liters of sap produce one kilograms of gula apong.   Gula apong resembles treacle and is golden brown in color. It tastes sweet and slightly salty, due to the inherent salt content of the nipah palms, which are constantly bathed in saline water. The syrup is left to cool and stored in containers for further packaging.   Gula apong was traditionally produced and utilized in the coastal villages where sugar was not available and was expensive to come by due to limited road accessibility. It was used in drinks and foods as a sweetener. As roads and transportation made their way into the coastal interior, processed imported white sugar replaced gula apong gradually. Currently, there are a few small-scale producers of gula apong in small towns in Sarawak, and they produce on demand.   Traditionally, the Ibans make rice cakes (penganan iri, penganan tatuk) for using the palm sugar for snacks and desserts, and proudly serve them to guests during festivals. These cakes are still in demand and found in shops in rural costal towns. In addition, the rice cakes are important components for the traditional Iban pirings, food offerings to their gods.   Palm sugar is an artisanal product that requires passion and craftsmanship to make, as the process is very time consuming and labor intensive. As such fewer and fewer people are willing to continue the craft. There is a possibility that it will diminish over time as other forms of sugar, honey and treacle are available and cheaper in the market.

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Indigenous community:Malay and Iban