The Truth About Coconut Palm Sugar: The Other Side of the Story!
The Truth About Coconut Palm Sugar: The Other Side of the Story!
Coconuts like these are sacrificed
when the sap from the tree is removed.
We are frequently asked about coconut palm sugar, and whether or not we plan to carry coconut palm sugar, also referred to as coconut sugar, palm sugar, or coconut syrup, among others. Coconut palm sugar is the latest coconut product to gain popularity, and its place in the market is expanding rapidly. And for good reason! Coconut palm sugar is being advertised as a healthy sugar; low in the glycemic index and full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It apparently tastes great as well!
This new success for palm sugar is yielding a high profit for both coconut farmers and retailers in the U.S., as “healthier sugars” are among the new high-demand “health” foods. We are seeing story after story in the Philippines of how coconut farmers are converting their coconut trees into coconut sugar production, collecting the sap from the tree to make this hot new commodity. The process is very simple, allowing anyone with coconut palm trees on their land to easily convert their coconut palms into an instant cash crop that reaps great financial benefits. A recent report in the Manila Bulletin stated
"The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) will aggressively promote export of coconut sap sugar, popularly called ‘coconut sugar’ aimed at getting a bigger share of a billion-dollar alternative sweetener market."
As retailers in the U.S. and elsewhere also cash in on this new demand, sadly, the other side of the story is not
being told. What no one is warning consumers about is that coconut palm trees cannot produce both coconuts and coconut palm sugar! When the sap used to make coconut palm sugar is collected from the coconut palm tree, from the flower bud that will eventually form a coconut, that tree can no longer produce coconuts! Think about that for a minute. No coconuts = no coconut oil, no dried coconut, no coconut flour. Is coconut sugar worth giving up these other valued products that come from the coconut?? Some claim that if a coconut palm tree is producing coconut sugar, which means that it cannot produce coconuts at the same time, that it can still be converted back to producing coconuts at a later time. However, in Marianita's experience in growing up in a coconut producing community, she has never seen this happen, and we have not seen any studies that have been conducted published anywhere to back up this claim.
The price of coconuts has recently been at an all time high in the Philippines, and we have been seeing shortages worldwide in all the coconut producing countries. Before the coconut palm sugar market craze, there were already coconut palm trees dedicated to the production of “tuba,” the toddy that comes from the sap of the flowering bud of the coconut palm tree. This tuba is used to make coconut vinegar, but mostly it is used for lambanong, an alcoholic beverage best described as “coconut vodka.” This is an established market in the Philippines, and you can be sure that for the most part, these coconut palm trees that have been used to produce coconut vodka are not just all of a sudden being converted to coconut sugar production! No, coconut palms that were formerly producing coconuts are now being converted to coconut sugar production, because a farmer can often make more money from the simple coconut sugar production than they can from selling the coconuts to wholesale coconut commodity brokers.
As it stands now, coconut palm sugar is not a sustainable industry. High consumer demand for coconut palm sugar is competing with increased demand for coconut oil and other coconut products. There are also no published standards for coconut palm sugar production that we are aware of, and many of the nutrient claims may be unfounded. We have only seen one study to date that has been published regarding the supposed low glycemic index, but the quality of the coconut palm sugar will vary greatly depending on the type of tree the sap is collected from, the age of the tree, the time of year (rainy season or dry season), etc. Are there actual studies published taking into account all of these factors? Are there published standards anywhere on the production of coconut sugar from the Philippines?
Tropical Traditions has looked into the possibility of providing coconut sugar to our customers, and there are just too many unanswered questions regarding the short term sustainability of coconut palm sugar products, the quality of coconut palm sugar production, and the impact of supplies of coconut products such as coconut oil, coconut flour, dried coconut, and other coconut products which have already seen record prices in recent times. People in the coconut palm sugar business have accused us of being financially motivated on this issue to simply protect the products we sell, but they fail to realize that with our network of hundreds of family who are small-scale family producers, that we are quite possibly in the best position to enter the coconut palm sugar market and profit even more from it than the current suppliers. So this is not a financial position for us at all.
The Philippine Coconut Authority in the Philippines is wisely recommending people to plant coconut trees especially for coconut sugar production, particularly the “dwarf” breeds that are shorter and can grow faster (average of 5 years instead of 10 years.) But as long as consumers continue to demand coconut palm sugar at the present time, it is unlikely that growers and harvesters in the Philippines will not wait many years to allow the supply to catch up when they can make a greater profit now. If current trends continue, coconuts could soon be so scarce and the price of coconut oil will be so high that only the rich and famous will be able to afford it.
There is a reason why the coconut palm sugar is so nutritious. It feeds the coconut flower that grows into a wonderful coconut, from which we get such healthy products like coconut oil! Coconut oil is unique in nature because of its fatty acid structure. Only human breast milk contains similar amounts of medium chain fatty acids. Healthy sugars, on the other hand, abound in nature. So for this reason, Tropical Traditions has decided not to enter into the coconut palm sugar market at this time.