Recent Gluten Contamination in Coconut Sugar Industry

Back in Indonesia for another coconut farmer visit, and here to update you on some recent developments in the organic coconut sugar industry. There’s been news of recent gluten contamination. This is worrying because coconut sugar is a mono ingredient product. Something is contaminating the coconut sap. But what? And how?  

Well, the answer requires a better understanding of two important steps in the coconut sugar production process.

  1. Farmer climbs up the coconut tree, collects the sap at the top into cylindrical bamboo containers. Sap is transported to the wife, whose job is to cook the sap and grind it into granulated sugar. 
  2. The sap either turns into granulated sugar (more expensive, better quality) or a hardened block form (cheaper, lower quality)

Here are where the issues begin. If cooked correctly, high quality sap turns into a thick paste which is the ground down and turned into granulated sugar (and then transported to a CPU for further drying and sieving). However, low quality sap does not turn into the thick paste. Instead, low quality sap remains a liquid, molasses type texture, and cannot be ground down into a granulated sugar, nor can it be turned into a hard block of coconut sap. 

At the juncture, the farmer has a choice to make. Either he can sell the molasses type liquid on the domestic market for about 30-40% of what organic granulated sugar would sell for, or he can take a chance and mix the molasses-y liquid with flour (that acts as a binding agent) so that the farmer can sell the sugar in block form to the processor. 

Due to a number of factors, these farmers often choose to mix their “molasses sap” with flour in order to minimize their losses. Visually, the hardened block mixed with flour cannot be easily detected, the only option is to test for gluten in a laboratory. 

These malfeasant practices ultimately hurt not only the consumer, who is expecting a gluten free product, but also the overall legitimacy of the coconut industry. What can food manufacturers who use coconut sugar in an ingredient do to protect themselves? For more information on this issue, drop us a note at hello@thecoconutcoop.com and we would be happy to discuss these issues with you privately. Thanks so much.