Sago Gula Melaka

2016-01-29 21.38.51

I don’t really believe in Paleo desserts. It seems counter-intuitive. We’re supposed to eat single ingredient, unprocessed food. Even made at home, with Paleo-compliant ingredients, they still tend to be made with fairly highly processed ingredients (tapioca starch, coconut flour, almond flour).

I do, however, believe in giving yourselves a break and enjoying good quality food, especially if it’s lovingly made at home with good quality ingredients. I just wouldn’t call it Paleo.

Now I’ve done the soap box bit, I can actually get on to the recipe in question. As much as I say dessert cannot be Paleo, this Malaysian dessert is as naturally Paleo as can be. It’s made with three basic ingredients from three different palms – sago, coconut and Malacca – grown in the tropics. Known as the three palms dessert, this simple dessert is a challenge to the senses, with the chewy slipperiness of the sago pearls, the fragrance of the pandan-scented coconut milk and the intense sweetness of the palm sugar. It’s a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it type of food, with some people finding it reminded them too much of tapioca puddings of school days gone by. Don’t let that put you off though – once you get over the texture of the sago pearls, this is a dessert you’ll want again and again!

Ingredients. Serves six.

  • 200g sago pearls*
  • 200g palm sugar, chopped*
  • 250ml coconut milk
  • 3 pandan leaves*
  • Pinch of salt

Method. Cooking time: 20 minutes. Chilling time: 1 hour.

  1. Bring a very large saucepan of water to a boil then turn it down to low. You want at least 700ml of water.
  2. Pour in the sago pearls and, using a whisk, stir continuously to avoid the sago pearls clumping at the bottom. Cook until the sago becomes translucent, around 20 minutes. Don’t worry too much if there are still some pearls that have not gone translucent.
  3. Strain the sago in a large sieve and rinse well with running cold water to wash off any excess starch and to cool it down.
  4. Grease some serving dishes, silicon muffin liners or muffin tins with coconut oil. Fill the dishes with the sago pearls, around 4 dessertspoons per person. Alternatively, you can pour it into one large greased mould. Allow to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  5. Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan, tie the three pandan leaves into a knot and add them to the saucepan with the pinch of salt. Heat on low until warm and thickened slightly and then switch off; it will continue to thicken as it cools.
  6. At the same time, place the palm sugar into another small saucepan and add 50ml of water and allow the palm sugar to dissolve and become syrupy. Switch off and allow to cool slightly; it will continue to become more syrupy.
  7. Serve the coconut milk and palm sugar warm in jugs to pour over the cold sago puddings.


  • You can substitute sago pearls with tapioca pearls, which are much easier to find. You want the small white pearls, NOT the big coloured ones you get in a bubble tea.
  • Palm sugar is known as gula Melaka in Malaysia, or jaggery in India and Sri Lanka. You can use coconut palm sugar instead, although it’s quite expensive. If you can’t find any of them, use dark, treacley muscovado sugar. The sugar syrup needs to be strong and smoky in flavour.
  • Pandan leaves are also known as screwpine leaves; they are long thin dark green leaves used to flavour curries, rice and desserts in Southeast Asia. They can be bought fresh at New Loon Moon in London’s Chinatown, but only in large quantities. They freeze incredibly well, and you can add it to coconut cauliflower rice or any Southeast Asian curry. If you can’t find them or don’t want to invest, add some slices of ginger to the coconut milk while heating. It’s a different flavour, but equally fragrant and delicious.

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