Coconut Sap: A Paleo Sweetener

We all know that sugar and Paleo don’t really mix well. Most people avoid the Paleo diet like the plague purely because they can’t have their sugar on the diet. The only sweets we get on this diet are fruits. I used to think that the only dessert worth having was bready and chocolate-y – certainly not fruity. Maybe if the fruit was accompanied by chocolate.

Anyway, all of us who eat on the Paleo spectrum probably indulge in sweets sometimes; after all, we’re genetically inclined to binge on sugary things.  And all sugars, regardless of their “low glycemic index” or fiber content are going to promote an insulin response and mess with our blood sugar for a while.  Don’t be fooled.  Even if the sugar I’m about to tell you about, coconut sap, has a glycemic index of “between 35 and 55,” it’s still not leafy vegetables or meat, which are in the 0-15 range on the glycemic index.

Those numbers just tell you how much a particular food affects your blood sugar on a scale from 0-100. Something like high fructose corn syrup is up at about an 87, and brown rice pasta is about the same. Refined honey is about a 75 and table sugar weighs in at around 80. Baked potatoes?  76. And plain glucose gets the gold star at 100. But that’s glycemic index, not glycemic load, and we’re not going to get into that right now. What you need to know is that the over-consumption of sugar leads to weight gain, inflammation, and blood sugar swings.  The lack of it in our Paleo diets is partly what makes us feel so much better than we used to.

The reasons I like using coconut sap in my coconut milk ice cream or in an occasional baked treat is that it’s full of nutrients — magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B’s, and because it’s about 80% inulin, a prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic means that it feeds the probiotics that are in your gut, which help keep your immune system and your digestive system strong. Coconut sap is also much lower in fructose (about 1.5% compared to 40-90% in agave)  and way less processed than agave.  It’s only simmered for about 40 minutes before it turns into the end product.  It’s also a sustainable food.  Once you “tap” the tree, the sap flows from it for another 20 years.

Tapping the Coconut Tree with Bamboo Containers

I like the Coconut Secret brand, which also makes coconut crystals. The crystals are just made by dehydrating the sap. I’ve used both in baked goods and ice cream and they work well, although the sap is better for ice cream making.

So don’t use it all that often, but if I had to choose a Paleo sweetener, this would be it, right alongside honey.  Both could have been (and probably were) harvested by our ancestors, which to me is the ultimate test of whether or not something is Paleo.  Try it out and let us know how it goes!


  1. Great article! I am always looking for making “alternative” sweets. I have two little guys and a husband that love their treats, so I make dessert 2-3 times a week. I CAN”T WAIT to try the coconut ice cream. The kids will love it because I can involve them in using the ice cream maker and I’ll feel sooooo much better letting them have that treat than the junky regular ice cream my hubby regularly drags home.

  2. Actually, Coconut Secret nectar is NOT 80% inulin. I just bought a new bottle the other day and noticed that the claim that it contains 82% inulin was missing, so I emailed them, and here’s the response that I got:

    “Thank you so much for your interest in our products. The sugar breakdown of the fresh coconut sap directly out of the tree is 0.5% glucose, 1.5% fructose, and 16% sucrose. However, when the excess liquid is evaporated from the fresh sap to make our Coconut Nectar or Crystals, the naturally occurring sugars become more concentrated (more so in the Crystals than the Nectar), which causes the percentage of glucose to increase to approximately 8-10%, the fructose 10-12%, and the sucrose increases to nearly 74%. The good news is that the presence of inulin and FOS are the key factors that maintain the glycemic index at an average of 35 GI. In addition, the Nectar and Crystals are totally unrefined and very minimally processed, remaining as close to the original state and high nutrient content of the fresh sap as they can possibly be. We have also had human study GI tests done on our products to verify their glycemic index.”

    So, though it’s less processed and the GI is still relatively low, the amount of fructose is similar to table sugar and HFCS. I guess it was just too good to be true. :(

  3. I just found this information researching coconut sugar-food for thought:

    We are frequently asked about coconut palm sugar, and whether or not we plan to carry coconut palm sugar, also referred to as coconut sugar, palm sugar, or coconut syrup, among others. Coconut palm sugar is the latest coconut product to gain popularity, and its place in the market is expanding rapidly. And for good reason! Coconut palm sugar is being advertised as a healthy sugar; low in the glycemic index and full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It apparently tastes great as well!

    This new success for palm sugar is yielding a high profit for both coconut farmers and retailers in the U.S., as “healthier sugars” are among the new high-demand “health” foods. We are seeing story after story in the Philippines of how coconut farmers are converting their coconut trees into coconut sugar production, collecting the sap from the tree to make this hot new commodity. The process is very simple, allowing anyone with coconut palm trees on their land to easily convert their coconut palms into an instant cash crop that reaps great financial benefits. A recent report in the Manila Bulletin stated “The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) will aggressively promote export of coconut sap sugar, popularly called ‘coconut sugar’ aimed at getting a bigger share of a billion-dollar alternative sweetener market.”

    As retailers in the U.S. and elsewhere also cash in on this new demand, sadly, the other side of the story is not being told. What no one is warning consumers about is that coconut palm trees cannot produce both coconuts and coconut palm sugar! When the sap used to make coconut palm sugar is collected from the coconut palm tree, from the flower bud that will eventually form a coconut, that tree can no longer produce coconuts! Think about that for a minute. No coconuts = no coconut oil, no dried coconut, no coconut flour. Is coconut sugar worth giving up these other valued products that come from the coconut?? Some claim that if a coconut palm tree is producing coconut sugar, which means that it cannot produce coconuts at the same time, that it can still be converted back to producing coconuts at a later time. However, in Marianita’s experience in growing up in a coconut producing community, she has never seen this happen, and we have not seen any studies that have been conducted published anywhere to back up this claim.

  4. Was really loving the sweet onion sauce from subway, and found this coconut sap to be an excellent substitute for the flavor. Haven’t really tried it in a beverage yet to sweeten it, though it is great on veggies.

  5. I plan to make my own coconut aminos from coconut nectar…which I believe is the same as coconut sap? Hmmm…either way, just trying to make the soy-sauce alternative more frugal and customizable ? (aka: More salty for me!)

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