Sago is the starch obtained from the core of various tropical palm stems, especially Metroxylon sagu, which is where it gets its name. Other names for sago include: sagu, sabudana, saksak, and rabia. Although it’s a staple food in Papua New Guinea, the largest exporters of sago are currently Indonesia and Malaysia.

Sago is used interchangeably with tapioca starch in many recipes. Tapioca is the cheaper ingredient of the two, so it’s likely that many foods labeled as sago are actually made with tapioca. In fact, certain countries use the word ‘sago’ by default for tapioca-based foods. Luckily, both sago and tapioca are gluten free.


Sago porridge from The Spruce Eats

Sago Processing and Nutrition

The process for obtaining sago starch is pretty labor-intensive. A palm of the correct type and age is selected before it has produced fruit, which would drain the palm of it’s starchy reserves. The palm is cut down and peeled to reveal it’s pithy center. The center is ground to a powder, then washed with water and strained through a cloth. The sago starch is what settles to the bottom of the solution during this process.

Nutritionally, being the starch that it is, sago has very little protein, minerals, or vitamins - but lots of carbs. Sago consumption is acceptable on the paleo diet, because it isn’t a grain.

The most common way to eat sago in Papua New Guinea is as a kind of gelatinous, thick soup. This style of cooking sago is also used in Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It’s called papeda, bubur sagu, ambuyat, or linut, depending on the country.

In Malaysia, a popular fish cracker snack called keropok lekor uses sago as it’s binder. It’s used in a similar way to make pempek, an Indonesia fishcake dish.

Sago is often consumed in India during fasting periods as a light meal, but it’s also used in snack foods like sandige, a type of puffed chip.

In Thailand and China, sago is used as an alternative to tapioca in dishes like tapioca pudding, or to make see-through dumpling skin wrappers.

Gluten Free Sago Recipes


Saksak, a Papua New Guinea dumpling from Taste Atlas


Papeda from Taste Atlas


Coconut mango sago pudding ingredients from Beyond Sweet and Savory

* Title image courtesy of MakChi's Cooking.

- Further Reading -