Thai curry recipes — especially those that include cracked coconut cream — often call for palm sugar, which is readily available in Asian markets. I learned in Thai Cooking School that palm sugar is made from the sap of blossoms on coconut palm trees. Workers climb the trees, collect the sap, then boil it down until it crystallizes. The process, in fact, is similar to how maple syrup is made.
Palm sugar has a rich, almost butterscotch flavor that adds an extra depth to already-intense Thai curries. I highly recommend trying it, particularly if your recipe calls for equally distinctive, flavorful ingredients such as fish sauce, coconut cream and tamarind. An added bonus: Palm sugar is becoming trendy as a refined-sugar alternative, similar to honey, agave and raw sugar. Not sure if it’s exactly healthy, but at least it’s made in a more eco-friendly fashion than table sugar. Here’s an interesting post on the merits of palm sugar, from the blog Summer Tomato.