PALM TREE SUGAR
Palm tree was originally found in Africa from where it spread to India and other eastern countries.It is found in Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. At present, there are about 7 to 8 crore palm trees in India, half of which are located in the state Tamil Nadu, which celebrates this tree as its state tree!
Though it is a tree which grows in dry land, it can grow in sea shores, plains, valleys and in hills upto an altitude of 2500 feet above sea level.
In India, especially in the southern part, for many thousands of years, Palm tree has played a major role in agriculture and handicraft. From its root to pith to its tender leaves each part has immense use.
A Tamil poem called ‘Thalavilasam’ written byThirukudanthai Arunachalam, portrays the 801 uses of this tree, which shows how elaborately this tree has influenced ancient India!
Palm sugar was one of the important export item from India a few centuries ago when the East India Company was functioning in India.
Till, about 150 years ago, untill british induced the influx of white cane sugar, palm sugar was the staple sweetener used by Indians. Because of Palm Sugar‘s rich calcium, iron and vitamins, the bone strength and general health of people was good. After the change in this food habit, the Indian population fell into severe malnutrition and anemia. Today every 3rd malnutritioned child is an indian child. 3 out of 5 indian women living in village is anemic.
Drinking Palm Neera used to be the break fast of Indians during the flowering season of the tree. Looking at the nutrition it adds everyday, off the flowering season, people didn’t want to loose the advantage. So they condensed palm neera into palm sugar and started consuming everyday with hot and cold drinks like ‘paanagam’. In many places the habit of eating a bit of palm sugar before drinking water everytime existed !
Palm tree takes minimum 15 to 20 years to give benefit. There is an ancient tamil saying which says that a person who plants palm tree is mature enough to think about his next generation, as not much of the benefit he could reap in his life time. Since crores of palm trees exists and existed in India which talks about the compassionate culture people lived here with.
On special occasions, the kings of ancient Tamil kingdoms adorned themselves with particular flowers. The Cheras who ruled tamilnadu for a longer period of time, decorated themselves with flowers of Indian Palm Tree (Palmyra) (Borasess flabellifer) which is known in Tamil as ‘pondhaiI’ or ‘panam poo’.
In fact the ‘sura’ and ‘soma’ drink referred in many ancient Indian scripts are nothing but the intoxicating drink extracted from the male and female palm trees!