How Do You Make Coconut Sugar?

The coconut tree, known as the tree of life, plays an important role in almost tropic and subtropic countries. It’s many culinary values are well documented, but the coconut is known also for its “thousand uses”, producing  oil, fuel, cosmetics, animal feed, etc, and remains an important staple in the economy of Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Brazil and India.

While people around the world celebrate the versatility of the coconut, questions remain about the farming and production process that yields each of the end products. In the post, I’ll lay out the basics of coconut farming, specifically as it applies to producing organic coconut sugar that meets The Coconut Cooperative’s quality standards.

Coconut sap has been used as a sweetener for thousands of years in Southeast Asia. Indonesia and the Philippines respectively produce the majority of the world's coconut sugar. While the industry has existed for centuries, the global demand of coconut by-products has triggered the small producers in these SE Asian countries to start exporting their products overseas. Congruently, the call for transparency and emphasis on quality control has followed.

The coconut tree is either harvested for the nut or the sap. The tree cannot produce both simultaneously. While the top producing coconut countries (Indonesia, Philippines) have the ability to produce all of the traditional coconut products (sugar, flour, flakes, oil, chips), Indonesia seems to specialize in coconut sugar, while Philipines and Sri Lanka in the desiccated coconut products.

In Indonesia, coconut farming is a family affair, and communities of farmers within a region will work together to aggregate their product to be sold together. Twice a day, once in the early morning and once in the afternoon, the husband will climb a coconut tree with a group of small wooden pails tied around his waist. Climbing up to 20 meters, the farmer will replace the empty pails with full ones and safely climb down the coconut tree.

Once on the ground, the farmer will transfer the sap to his wife, who will begin the process to cook, clean, and turn the sap into sugar. The sap is simmered in a wok for several hours until the moisture of the sap is reduced to a predetermined level, which can be determined by the color of the sap. Depending on the end use, the coconut sap at this point could be golden brown to very dark brown. The sap will resemble a paste form, and the wife will use a coconut shell to grind up the paste and prepare the sap for further oven drying.

Once the coconut sap is cooked and ground, workers from a nearby central processing unit will come and collect the sap and transport it to the central processing unit where the sap is oven dried to a moisture content of 2.5-3%. (Just as a fun fact, farmers used to sun dry the coconut sugar outside). Workers continue to grind until the sugar can pass through a large mechanical mesh.  After passing the sieve process, workers will metal detect the sugar for any anomalies and test representative samples to ensure that the sugar falls within microbiological and nutritional standards. As you would expect, any non-conforming sugar is identified, either visually or by metal detector and removed. Afterwards, the remaining coconut sugar is packaged into 25kg supersacks, and loaded into boxes for packing and export.

All of The Coconut Cooperative’s farmers are USDA Organic, Kosher, HACCP, BRC, and Fair Trade certified. For more information, please contact shaan@thecoconutcoop.com for more information on the certification, quality, or processing standards.