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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Food and drink biodiversity:

Sweet substances

Arenga pinnata (Sugar palm)

This palm is indigenous from India through to Indonesia. Sap is collected from where the male (or sometimes female) flower clusters have been cut off, with up to 1800 litres of sap collected per tree per year. The sap contains sucrose and is boiled down to yield palm sugar (known as gula or jaggery). About 150 kg of sugar can be obtained from 1800 litres of sap. The sap is also fermented to produce palm wine or toddy and this can be distilled to produce palm spirit (termed arrack) (van Wyk 2005). 


Caryota urens (Fishtail palm)

Indigenous from India eastwards to Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. It is used as a source of palm sugar: the sap is collected from where flower clusters have been cut off. Up to 20 litres of sugary sap can be collected per tree per day. The sap is also fermented to produce palm wine or toddy, which when distilled, produces the spirit termed 'arrack'. These products are also produced from other palm species. 


Beta vulgaris var. vulgaris (Sugar beet)

All the varieties of Beta vulgaris (Chard, Beetroot, Sugarbeet, Mangel-wurzel) ultimately originate from wild Sea Beet Beta maritima which is indigenous to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. By 1750 a process had been developed in Prussia for extracting sugar (sucrose) from red and white beets. During the Napoleonic wars British blockades cut off cane sugar supplies to the European continent and so the growing of Beet for sugar became economical and was also encouraged by Napoleon and the King of Prussia. Through selection, the sucrose level in the beets eventually reached about 20%. By 1900, beet sugar production in Europe was nearly as great as World cane sugar production.


Ceratonia siliqua (Carob)

This tree grows to about 15 m in height and originates as a cultivated species from the Arabian Peninsula. It is grown from seed in many parts of the world. The pods have up to 50% sugar and are ground up into a flour that is used as a chocolate substitute in candy bars. There are more minerals and vitamins, less fat and few calories in carob powder than chocolate powder of the same weight.