How Do I Cook Sago?

J.M. Densing

Sago, often referred to as sago pearls, is a substance with a consistency similar to tapioca particles that is frequently used in desserts and other dishes in Asia. It is formed out of the starch from the inner pith of sago palm trees, and resembles small hard beads in its uncooked state. To cook sago before adding it to a recipe, it needs to be boiled until it becomes translucent. The sago should be should be handled with care during and after the cooking process in order to achieve the best results. Sago has very little taste of its own, so it absorbs the flavor of other ingredients in the dishes in which it is used.


In some parts of Asia, sago is a very popular, commonly-used ingredient in a variety of desserts and drinks. It's often called sago pearls because, once it is cooked, the globular sago particles take on a translucent, shimmering appearance that resembles pearls. The texture of sago pearls is slightly firm on the outside with a yielding, gelatinous interior consistency. Sago pearls are formed out of the starch that is left behind when the fiber from the inner pith of the sago palm tree is soaked in water. The particles that remain once the starchy water evaporates are dried and shaped into the rounded pearls.

Before it can be added to any recipe, sago must be prepared and cooked. To cook sago is a relatively simple process, but it can be time consuming and requires care and attentiveness for the best results. The usual way to cook sago is to boil it for a while until it becomes translucent, with no sign of white, uncooked starch. The recommended length of time to cook sago varies depending on the size of the pearls and the desired consistency, but it can take from about twenty minutes to an hour. If a firmer texture is desired, it should be cooked for less time, and, if it is being added to a dish such as a liquid-based pudding, it can be removed from the boiling water in the last ten minutes since it will soften more when it soaks up some of the fluid.

Another tip for cooking sago is to stir it very frequently to prevent the formation of clumps from pearls that are stuck together that could lead to undercooked pearls. It should be kept on the lowest heat setting that will boil the water to prevent lumps of starch from forming in the pot and burning. It's also a good idea to rinse it thoroughly in cold water after cooking to wash away any excess starch and prevent stickiness. Once it is cooked, sago can be served in a variety of ways, and it will absorb flavor from the other ingredients in the dish. Some popular ways to serve sago include soaking it in coconut milk and molding it into shaped puddings which are coated in palm sugar syrup.

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