Cambodia Sugar Palm Tree (Palmyra Palm)
Sugar Palm Tree – National Tree of Cambodia
Cambodia Sugar Palm tree or English called Palmyra Palm, has got a Khmer name called ‘Thnot’. Its scientific name is Borassus Flabellifer. Sugar palm tree is the national tree of Cambodia, it symbolizes the Khmer territory. Since the early construction of the country, sugar palm trees are already with us. Million of sugar palm tree are growing through out the country since ancient time. Cambodia’s rice fields are decorated with sky high sugar palm tree, creating a marvelous peaceful countryside landmark, which is very unique and attractive. Sugar palm tree is treated as Cambodia’s national heritage in which it can live to hundred years of age. The tree takes 20 years to be mature and start giving harvest. One sugar palm tree is planted, it could be benefited for many generations. At my home in the province, there are several palm tree planted by my grandfather. When I grow up, my mom told me that, those sugar palm trees are many years older than me, and they are still giving harvest until now.
Despite the decoration purpose, sugar palm tree provides many advantages for our daily life. It doesn’t require good soil to grow, doesn’t require watering. Just planted outside the field of rice at the dike, then it grow up with nature. With modern technology, more advantages has been found from sugar palm tree. In recent years, there are many private and public urbanization projects was set up to encourage Khmer farmers grow more palm tree. Various products made of sugar palm sap has been produced in Cambodia by local and foreign investment companies. The products mainly for export.
Sugar palm tree is very high, at mature it is about 8m high and possibly grow to 20-25m high. The tree grows up with a single stem, has no branches, the leaves growing from the top of the tree trunk as cluster. It’s about 2-3 m long and fan shaped. The stalks of the leave are lined with saw at both sides. The root of sugar palm tree has lateral characteristics and has no main root. The flowers are small in densely clustered spikes, follow by large brown roundish fruits. The whole tree is in used included root, tree trunk, leaves, stem, flowers, and fruit.
Sugar Palm Sap (ទឹកត្នោត)
Sugar palm sap is obtained from palm flowers. The flowers were cut at its end to let the sap dropping into a container made of bamboo, in Khmer we call it ‘Bampong’, which is hanging on the sugar palm tree. The sugar palm tree is very tall, you might wonder how people can climb up the tree to cut its flower and hang the containers? The bamboo tree trunk are tied with the palm tree from its base until top of tree trunk. Since the bamboo tree has eyes at every 30cm of the whole tree trunk, it become the step stair for the farmers to climb up the palm tree easily. However, the set up of the bamboo stair step on the sugar palm tree must be done very carefully to avoid accident while climbing.
The farmers started to climb up the palm tree in the evening to hang the empty bamboo containers. And in the next day morning, they climb up again to take back the containers with full of palm sap within it. But before the sugar palm flowers can drop down its sap, the farmers must use a tool make of bamboo to press or squeeze the flowers many days (about one week) until they become soft and the sap starting to drop at the cutting edge. And once it started dropping, it drops for the whole season until there is no more sap to drop. The harvest season starts from Dec to May, during the dry season while the farmers are free from their growing rice business. One sugar palm tree can provide from 5-10 litters of sap per day.
The fresh sugar palm sap can be drink as coke, it has natural sweet taste. The children in countryside like it very much. Sugar palm sap is the only ingredient for making palm sugar. After evaporation the palm sap become palm sugar which is one of Cambodia’s national products. The palm sugar can be produced into many form such as powder, paste, blocks or syrup. Teuk Thnot Chuu (sugar palm wine), Teuk Khmes Thnot (sugar palm vinegar) are also make of palm sap through a natural fermentation process. Teuk Thnot Chuu can cause people drunk just as rice wine. And Teuk Khmes Thnot is more healthy then the preserved vinegar on sell in the market.
Sugar Palm Leaves (ស្លឹកត្នោត)
Sugar palm leaves are used as material covering house roof and wall of poor families in the countryside, or the roof of cattle shelters, or cottage in their farm or in the rice field. Because mostly the field are far away from the village, that they have lunch at the field in their cottages. The sugar palm leaves are also used to make fence around the house to lock up pets such as chicken or duck. So that they don’t go to neighbor’s house, or protect them from destroying the vegetables farm around the house.
Sugar palm leaves have a very special sweet fragrance of palm. Many kinds of Khmer cake are wrapped with sugar palm leaves, such as num ansom chek (banana sticky rice cake), num thnot (sugar palm cake), num thlorng (sticky rice with shredded coconut and soybean). The sugar palm leave give the cake that special fragrance and also protect the cake from sweating during hot climate, so that the cake can be kept longer.
Sugar palm leaves are an important ingredient for many crafting products. Especially, souvenir containers which so called as ‘Smock’, it makes the items look very neat, lovely and elegant. Many products of Cambodia are packed with palm leaves, which carry the flavor and symbol of Cambodia. Some other daily use materials are also made of sugar palm leaves such as palm hat, palm fan, baskets, mats, umbrellas, and it was used as writing material in ancient time instead of paper.
Sugar Palm Fruit (ផ្លែត្នោត)
Sugar palm trees have male and female tree. The female flowers produce palm sap more than male flower, one female flower for one container, while four male flower for one container. The male tree only grow flowers and give sap, but not develop into fruits. Only female trees that can bear fruits. Sugar palm fruits are growing in clusters of 6-12 fruits, just like coconut. The fruit is round, the large one is about 12cm in diameter. It’s green when unripe and turn into brown gradually.
When the fruit is young, it is used as vegetable for Khmer dishes, the most popular one is Samlor Korko Thnot (Sugar Palm Soup). After peeled the cover, the inside flesh is sliced and cook. The soup tastes the sweet of sugar palm fruit and a bit bitter.
When the fruit is matured, open up the fruit, there are three nuts of white flat flesh, jelly like, in each fruit. The nut is eaten as sweet or dessert. Give a bite to the nut, then the water inside the nut would be out, it’s sweet. This way is eating raw, the nut can be eaten solely, or served with sugar sauce and add coconut milk. There is one more special dessert of Khmer made of sugar palm nut (គ្រាប់ត្នោត), it’s Bobor Thnot (បបរត្នោត). The sugar palm nut is sliced and cooked with sticky rice paddy and sugar palm sap, add some coconut milk.
When the fruit is ripe (old), the skin become black. The flesh inside become very yellow and the nut become very hard. At this stage, the flesh is used as ingredient for Khmer cake, Akor Thnot (អាកោត្នោត). This cake is made of rice paddy flour, sugar palm flesh, yeast, and coconut milk.
Other Parts of Sugar Palm Tree
In Cambodia, the root and male flowers used as Khmer traditional medicine for malaria, sexual diseases, and anesthesia. Beside this, sugar palm tree can prevent erosion with its deep root system up to 15m into the ground.
The tree trunk used for construction of houses, shelters for animals, and also can make boat. The tree trunk is cut then sliced lengthwise into two parts. One part is bigger then another. The bigger part is taken to be boat, by taking out the inside of the tree trunk to creating the body of the boat. This boat can carry two persons, people used it in their local lakes while going to pick lotus flowers, lotus leaves, or lotus roots, and other water vegetables such as water lily, water spinach, pka snorw, pka kom plok, ect. Normally, the sugar palm tree is cut down when the tree is very old and stop giving harvest of the palm sap and fruit. The oldest sugar palm tree trunk is best for making boat. In the city, the palm boat is used as containers for planting flowers or as fish tank in the garden of Khmer luxury hotels.
The wiry fiber part of the stalks of the leaves are used to produce brushes.
The Cultivation of Sugar Palm Tree
Just like coconut, when the sugar palm fruit is left to very old until they drop down on the ground, after a period of time, the new bud growing out from the top of the fruit and slowly develop into leaves. At this time we can take the fruit to plant in desire location.
Cambodia Products from Sugar Palm Tree
Kampong Speu is the province which most sugar palm tree are growing. The area’s sandy soil and low rainfall only suitable for sugar palm plantation. Thus palm sugar production of Kampong Speu province has a long tradition, and due to the producer expertise, the palm sugar from Kampong Speu is most well known. Kampong Speu province currently has 311,132 sugar palm tree are in production of sap, which produced a total of 12,445 tons palm sugar per year. The area of productions are in Samrong Tong, Oudong, Chbar Mon, and Thnol Tor Teung.
Some other provinces also has production of palm sugar such as Pusat with 4,000 tons per year, Kampong Chnang with 1,200 tons per year, and Kandal province with 110,553 sugar palm trees mainly in Angsnuol district, produced 1658 tons per year.
Other Palm Drink
Researches show that the fresh sugar palm sap contains Vitamin B, C, D and full of minerals. So there are many locals and foreign investors have processed palm sap into many products such as palm wine, palm beer, sour palm juice and also palm sugar. The products are served for local market as well as for exporting.