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Using Palm Sugar for Thai Cooking - Why Thai Food Doesn't Taste the Same Outside of Thailand!

Wonder why the Asian dishes you make at home don't taste as good as they Asian dishes you had on your travels?

Well, there are probably a few reasons for this:

  • The first reason may well be the way in which the environment influences our perceptions of taste (It's for this reason that Heston Blumenthal, chef at the famed "fat Duck" in the UK asks customers to listen to an I-pod playing a seascape soundtrack while eating a certain seafood dish).
  • The second reason may well be the magical seasoning so widely used throughout Asia, and so feared outside of it…You guessed it, the evil MSG! MSG is such an easy way to accentuate the flavors of a dish that virtually all food sellers in Thailand use it. MSG has been proven a benign substance for human consumption (but you will NEVER convince people who believe otherwise of this!!!) and it does create a remarkable change in the way food stimulates the palate.

Some of us may also shy away a little bit from the stinky delights of fish sauce, wondering how something that sounds a smells so bad – can make things taste good?!?! Well, it does, and you should use it, and in abundance!

  • The third reason why we all have trouble reproducing the tastes of our travels may be a disparity between the ingredients commonly used there…and here. Cookbook authors don't often write recipes full of ingredients that they know their audience of readers won't have or can't get – what would be the point, but on the flip side, make enough subtle changes in the ingredient list, and you change the essence of the food.

Anyway, a very long winded introduction to the joys of palm sugar!

Palm Sugar

Palm sugar is made from boiled palm sap. In Thailand, it's sold as a golden/tan paste and it is the most commonly used sugar for addition to stir fries and other dishes (a lot of Thai food uses a spoonful of sugar to balance the flavors.)

Palm sugar has a fuller and more robust taste than the very neutral white granulated sugar that most often replaces it, and in truth, brown sugar is probably a better substitute.

Palm sugar, like most sugars, has lasts for a very long time and like most sugars, it doesn't cost very much – so there is little downside to visiting your local Asian grocery and picking up a pound of something that will help your food taste just a little bit more authentic.

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Try using palm sugar instead of the usual white sugar in your next Thai recipe and see if you don't notice a subtle difference.


Sonya on February 26, 2013:

I live in Thailand the food is full of salt msg and a lot of sugar. Off course tastes fantastic..... I make thai at home and the above ingredients i leave out it does not taste the same but still really good and better for you.

Sonya on February 26, 2013:

I live in Thailand the

C on October 22, 2011:

I've read studies (questionable funding) that show MSG is safe, and I've see studies that show its a potent excitotoxin that actually destroys cells in certain areas of the brain. Don't you think its better to be safe than sorry? DON'T EAT IT

AngelaKaelin from New York on April 09, 2011:

Thanks for the info. I'm just learning about this product.

The Good Cook on May 18, 2009:

Nice to know the tricks of the trade, or in this case, the trick of the ingredients! Thanks.

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