Friday, February 20, 2009

Sago Gula Melaka

Updated: August 25, 2009.

I think this common Malaysian dessert that I made recently should to be nicknamed “Malaysian Tapioca Pudding”. This dessert is usually made from Sago pearls which looks exactly like Tapioca pearls, but derived from a different starch. Sago is a starch extracted from the pith of Sago Palm stems and Sago Pearls are widely used in South East Asian desserts. Tapioca on the other hand is a starch extracted from a root of a plant call Cassava. Tapioca starch is a very common thickening agent in cooking. Both Sago & Tapioca pearls are quite tasteless, odorless and are “springy” and slightly chewy when cooked. Hence these two pearls are used quite interchangeably. As I can’t find Sago Pearls here, I have resorted to use Tapioca Pearls in making the Sago Gula Melaka dessert. Therefore, shouldn’t I call it Tapioca Gula Melaka, Palm Sugar Tapioca, or Malaysian Tapioca Pudding? =PSago Gula MelakaGula Melaka (Palm Sugar) used in this dessert is commonly found in Malaysia. It’s dark brown in color and often cylindrical shaped. This is slightly different than the Palm Sugar from Thailand as they are often off white in color, round disc shaped and in my opinion has a stronger “coconuty” flavor. Malaysian Palm Sugar (left) can be found in specialty Malaysian Store (or Malaysian online grocer), while the Thai/Vietnamese Palm Sugar(right) can be found in most Asian Stores, especially the ones specializing in South East Asian food. Palm Sugar is used not only in South East Asian desserts, they are also used in savory dishes,i.e curry.

Palm Sugar Palm Sugar-1



  • 1/2 Cup Tapioca or Sago Pearls
  • 5 Cup Water
  • 125g Gula Melaka, chopped in small pieces (Ok to use brown sugar, if you can’t find this)
  • 2 pcs White Palm Sugar (**Optional)
  • 2 Pandan (Screwpine) leaves, knotted (**Optional)
  • 1/2 Cup Thick Coconut Milk


In a medium pot, boil 5 cups of water and knotted pandan leaves over medium heat. When water is boiling, add tapioca/sago pearls and stir for a couple seconds. Let the pearls boil for about 15 minutes (there should still be a white dot on each pearls). Then, turn off heat and cover for 10 minutes to let the sago cook completely. Pearls will turn translucent when cooked. Do not overcook the pearls as you will end up with a pot of gluey goo!!!! Remove Pandan leaves, strain pearls with a sieve and run cold water through, stir to cool and to separate the cooked pearls. Put them aside (in the sieve) and let water drain. Then, transfer these into a bowl or smaller individual bowls depending on your preference and chill in the fridge. I would reckon to chill the Sago/ Tapioca Pudding for at least 3 hours for the pearls to completely set.

While the pearls are chilling, add gula melaka, white palm sugar and about 4 Tbsp of water in a small pot. Cook the sugar mixture over low heat till sugar dissolves, and syrup is thick. Let cool.

Serve chilled sago / tapioca pudding with Gula Melaka syrup and coconut milk. This should serve 3-4 people! Enjoy this sugary coconuty goodness!!

Sago Gula Melaka-1I've shared this recipe with Vaishali from to participate in her vegan event: "It's a Vegan World: Malaysia (August 2009)". This would be a great vegan/vegetarian dessert recipe for some of you out there!.

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