Toddy Palm Tree Toddy Palm - Sugar Palm

Palms are vigorous, high production trees, and their importance to tropical peoples cannot be understated. Some species, called Toddy Palms, have been tapped particularly for their sweet sap which is made into sugar and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Their sweet fruit and young stems are also used.

The method of obtaining this sap is to climb the tree, cut the end of the inflorescence (flower cluster) and hang a container from it to catch the sap that drips out. If the container is not coated inside with lime juice the sap will ferment and become alcoholic within a couple of hours.   Photo by L. Shyamal distributed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5.





Varieties Quite a few different palm species are called Toddy Palm and/or Sugar Palm. The ones listed here are the most extensively tapped for their sweet sap.

Toddy Palm #1   -   [Palmyra Palm, Wine palm, genus Borassus]

This is the "default" toddy palm, presumed if there are no other hints given. Several species of this tall fan palm are native to Africa, Madagascar, New Guinea and Southeast Asia. All produce rather large fruits which are eaten roasted or raw. Jellylike immature seeds are also popular and available in cans worldwide. The inflorescences are tapped for sap called toddy which can be kept fresh or fermented for beverages, particularly arrack. It can also be boiled down into palm sugar which is much used in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia as Gula Jawa (Javanese sugar).

Particularly in Tamil Nadu, India, young plants are germinated for their underground stems which are boiled and eaten. The germinated shells are opened and the crunchy kernel is also eaten - similar to a water chestnut but sweeter. Even the fibrous outer layer of the fruit is boiled or fire roasted and eaten.   Photo by J.M.Garg licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported.

Toddy Palm #2   -   [Fishtail Palm, Sago Palm, Caryota Urens (and similar)]

Native to Sri Lanka, India and Burma, this fishtail palm is relatively short, growing to no more than 40 feet, and short lived. It has a smooth gray bark with widely spaced leaf scar rings from which the inflorescences emerge. This tree is considered an invasive in Florida.

The fruit is about 1/2 inch in diameter, red when ripe and contains a fair amount of oxalic acid so it isn't really edible. Once fruiting is complete the tree dies. Meanwhile, the sap is tapped to make a palm sugar called palm jaggery (unrefined cane sugar may also be called jaggery).   Photo by Atamari licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5.

Toddy Palm #3   -   [Sugar Palm, Arenga Palm, Black-fiber Palm, Gomuti Palm, Aren, Irok, Kaong, Arenga Pinnata alt Arenga saccharifera]

This feather palm native to eastern India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines is tapped to make beverages and to boil down into a palm sugar known as gur in India. In the Philippines it is much used to make palm vinegar. The fruit can be eaten only if properly prepared, the juice and pulp being caustic in their natural form.   Photo by W.A. Djatmiko licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported.

Toddy Palm #4   -   [Silver Date Palm, Sugar Date Palm Phoenix sylvestris]

This feather palm native to southern Pakistan and most of India is tapped to make alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. In West Bengal, India, the sap is boiled down to make palm jaggery.   Photo by J.M.Garg licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported.

Toddy Palm #5   -   [Coconut Palm, Cocos nucifera]

The coconut palm is also tapped for its sap to make palm sugar and alcoholic beverages, though its many other uses predominate. The sap is much used to make vinegar in the Philippines.   Photo © i2005 .

Toddy Palm #6   -   [Nipa Palm, Nypa fruticans]
Palm Fronds

This is the only palm adapted to the mangrove environment. it is tapped for its sap in the Philippines and Malaysia to make alcoholic beverages, and in the Philippines to further ferment into vinegar. Details and Cooking.   Photo by Eric Guinther distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported.

Toddy Palm Products

Palm Sugar
Palm Sugar This flavorful unrefined sugar, made from the condensed juice of various palm trees, is generally sold in dome shape cakes of various sizes. Some is now sold in a convenient syrup form. While sugar from different palms is somewhat different, and some darker and some lighter, it is generally lighter in flavor than unrefined cane sugar. It also costs more.

Palm sugar is used in the southern portions of India as palm gur or palm jaggery. Gur and jaggery alone are not definitive terms - jaggery is supposed to be cakes of cane sugar and gur cakes of palm sugar but the terms are often misused in both directions. Palm sugar is a preferred sugar throughout Southeast Asia.

Kaong   -   [Kaong (Philippine); Buah kolang-kaling, buah tap (Indonesia); Arenga pinnata (Toddy Palm #3 above)]
Palm Gels

The immature seeds of the Arenga palm are very popular in the Philippines and Indonesia. The photo specimens were from the Philippines where they are put up in jars in a light syrup, natural or dyed red or green. The red ones are preferred for the very popular Philippine fruit salad. The photo specimens, purchased from a Philippine market in Los Angeles, California, were about 0.83 inch long. Ingred: sugar palm fruit, cane sugar, water, artificial banana flavor, citric acid, sodium metabisulfite; (FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Blue #1); (FD&C Red #40).

Palmyra Palm Seed   -   [genus Borassus, various species (Toddy Palm #1 above)]
Toddy Gels

The immature seeds of the palmyra palm are a firm translucent gel, almost firm enough to be crunchy, moderately sweet and with a pleasant palm sugar flavor. The photo specimens were 2-3/8 inch square by 1 inch thick and weighed 2-5/8 ounces each, The fruits are black, from 4 to 7 inches in diameter, and contain 3 seed gels each. The gels are covered with a light brown fibrous outer skin, which is peeled off and the gels flattened a bit more in the packing process.

Cans of these seed gels packed in light syrup are easily found in markets serving Southeast Asian communities, along with other, smaller palm seed gels from other types of palm fruit.

Toddy Paste
Toddy Paste This paste is made by fermenting toddy palm fruit. The substance is sweet and tart like tamarind but a bit more tart and very different in flavor. In Thailand it is used as a flavoring in traditional cakes and puddings.


Toddy Palm Drink (photo) is non-alcoholic and sold in just about any market that serves a Southeast Asian community. Thailand is the largest exporter. Ingredients: toddy palm juice (no added sugar needed). Sweet, earthy, just a hint of smokiness (non carbonated). I like it poured over lots of ice.

Toddy is a mildly alcoholic palm wine. If the collecting container is not coated with lime juice to prevent fermentation the collected sap can reach 4% within just a couple hours. It can be left to go as much as a day when it will be stronger and more acidic, but beyond that time it goes quickly to vinegar. Toddy, being quite perishable, is generally consumed locally.

Arrack is made by distilling toddy to between 33% and 50% alcohol. It is described as "somewhere between whiskey and rum" in flavor. Caution: just because it says "Arrack" doesn't mean it's made out of palm toddy - there are other strong beverages called Arrack but distilled from other materials - you have to be specific.

Palm & Coconut Vinegar

Anything that can be fermented into an alcoholic beverage can then go through a secondary fermentation to become vinegar. In the Philippines both Coconut Vinegar and Palm Vinegar are made. The Palm vinegar is made primarily from the Nipa Palm (Toddy Palm #6 above). The photo specimen is Coconut Vinegar, but Palm Vinegar looks exactly the same.

Palm & Coconut Sprouts   -   [Panai, Panang Kizhangu (India)]
Sprouting Coconut

In Africa, Southeast Asia and particularly southern India, Palmyra palm seeds are often sprouted in sandy soil, then harvested for use as a vegetable when they are about two months old and about a foot long - quite a lot bigger than bean sprouts. They are often boiled, then served as a snack or appetizer. I haven't yet come across anything on the flavor, but presume it'll be at least related to that of hearts of palm.

Coconut sprouts are also eaten when they are about 1-1/2 feet high. They have been described to have the texture of a crisp sponge and to be delicious. They are eaten in the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii.   Photo by Wmpearl of coconut palm sprouting in Hawaii contributed to the public domain.

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