Sago is a starch extracted from the pith of sago palm stems, Metroxylon sagu. It is a major staple food for the lowland peoples of New Guinea and the Moluccas, where it is called saksak and sagu. It is traditionally cooked and eaten in various forms, such as rolled into balls, mixed with boiling water to form a paste, or as a pancake.
Sago looks like many other starches, and both sago and tapioca are produced commercially in the form of "pearls". Sago pearls are similar in appearance to tapioca pearls, and the two may be used interchangeably in some dishes. This similarity causes some confusion in the names of dishes made with the pearls. Because sago flour made from Metroxylon is the most widely used form, this article discusses sago from Metroxylon unless otherwise specified.
Metroxylon sago is made through the following process:
Palms are felled just before flowering, when the stems are richest in starch. One palm yields 150 to 300 kg of starch.
Sago flour from Metroxylon is nearly pure carbohydrate and has very little protein, vitamins, or minerals. However, as sago palms are typically found in areas unsuited for other forms of agriculture, sago cultivation is often the most ecologically appropriate form of land-use, and the nutritional deficiencies of the food can often be compensated for with other readily available foods.
One hundred grams of dry sago yields 355 calories, including an average of 94 grams of carbohydrate, 0.2 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of dietary fiber, 10 mg of calcium, 1.2 mg of iron, and negligible amounts of fat, carotene, thiamine, and ascorbic acid.
Sago can be stored for weeks or months, although it is generally eaten soon after it is processed.
Sago starch is either baked (resulting in a product analogous to bread, pancake, or biscuit) or mixed with boiling water to form a paste. Sago can be made into steamed puddings such as sago plum pudding, ground into a powder and used as a thickener for other dishes, or used as a dense flour.
The starch is also used to treat fibre, making it easier to machine. This process is called sizing and helps to bind the fibre, give it a predictable slip for running on metal, standardise the level of hydration of the fibre, and give the textile more body. Most cloth and clothing has been sized; this leaves a residue which is removed in the first wash.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, sago is a main staple of many traditional communities in New Guinea, Borneo, Maluku, and Sumatra. In Brunei, it is used for making the popular local cuisine called the ambuyat. It is also used commercially in making noodles and white bread. Globally, its principal use is in the form of tapioca-like "pearls" such as those often found in drinks and smoothies. In Malaysia, traditional food "kerepok lekor" (fish sausage), uses sago as one of its main ingredients. In the making of the popular Keropok Lekor of Losong in Terengganu each kilogram of fish meat is mixed with half kilogram of fine sago with little salt added for flavour. Tons of raw sago are imported each year into Malaysia to support the keropok lekor industry.
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