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    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    Sugar Palm

    Sugar palm is thought to be indigenous to the Indo-Malayan Archipelago. This striking palm is frequently found growing near villages where are covered with persistent leaf bases and long back fibers, bear a dense crown of pinnate leaves. After a period of vegetation growth, pendulous inflorescences are produced first. The palm dies after flowering and fruiting.

     

    The most important product of this palm is its sugary sap, hence its common name. The sap exudes from the cut stalk of the inflorescence, an average yield of about six liters can be obtained each day. This sap makes a refreshing drink neera, but may also be boiled down to make gula merah, a dark sugar. Palm wine, or tuak, is made by allowing fermentation of the sap, and vinegar is produced if this process is continued further. Distillation of tuak produces the potent drink, arak, and also alcohol for industrial purposes. The sugar palm is also a valuable source of ijuk, the fiber which covers the trunk of this palm. It is used throughout Indonesia because of its great durability, making excellent cordage, thatching, matting and brushes. Fiber is also recovered from the roots, trunk pith and leaf stalks, although this is a lower quality.

     

    In addition to the above, the sugar palm provides a range of foodstuffs. The shoot apex is a source of palm cabbage and good quality sago can be extracted from the stem. Immature fruits are collected for the edible, gelatinous endosperm. The latter becomes very hard with maturity, and is the used for carving. The fruits are also used as a fish poison, since the skins are toxic.

     

    A popular delicacy are the grubs of the palm beetle, which are reared on fallen sterns. Recent interest in this species has led to commercial plantations. The highly productive and versatile palm could play an increasingly important role in the economy of Indonesia in future years.

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