All through the countryside you’ve seen them: weather-beaten farmers bouncing down the road on bicycles, with bamboo cylinders hanging from ropes tied to their handlebars. They climb palm trees, sometimes with a machete in their mouth, and cut the ends off the palm flowers, fix the bamboo cylinders over them, then climb down and wait.

A sticky, golden sap drips slowly into the cylinder for a few days. Then our farmer returns, scales the tree once more and collects his harvest. It’s painstaking work, but it has paid dividends. Kampong Speu Palm Sugar – or Skor Tnaut Kampong Speu – was given protected status by the European Commission this month. The designation placing it alongside Kampot Pepper as the only Cambodian products to enjoy such distinction.

kampong-speu-palm-sugar-pgi-status Palm sugar poured into natural bamboo casings

Safeguarding the Integrity of Palm Sugar

Loved by chefs and home cooks for its rich aroma and glistening amber colour, Kampong Speu Palm Sugar is currently exported to some 25 countries around Asia and the European Union. The newly realised status – protected geographical indication, or PGI – insures the product against fake alternatives. The name is now protected from being used by outsiders. Anyone attempting to falsely label their product under its name can now face legal action.

With 168 farmers on its books, the Kampong Speu Palm Sugar Promotion Association produced 300 tonnes of the sticky sweetness last year, at $1,325 per tonne. Production is projected to reach 350 tonnes this year, and with the new status protecting the product from impersonators, orders are expected to increase further, according to the Farmers’ Association. They predict that many more farmers will be needed to dust off their bamboo cylinders and scale the sugar palms to meet the demand.