Man has found uses for every part of the palmyrah palm and an entire industry has evolved around it in Sri Lanka.
It is said that the palm has 800 uses, ranging from food to building materials, decorative and utility wares and writing materials.
The palmyrah cuisine is vast and varied, drawing on all parts of the plant to please the palate. Perhaps the best-known product is palmyrah toddy, tapped from the inflorescence, sweet when fresh and bitter when fermented into the whisky-like arrack. Fresh toddy is boiled into a bitter sweet molasses, a more nutritious and healthy sugar substitute.
It is also made into vinegar.
The clusters of purplish black nuts are full of sticky fibre surrounding small translucent jelly-like kernels. This juicy flesh is used to make delicious drinks. Travelling to Jaffna, you are often offered a drink of palmyrah straight from the fruit which is cut open so that you can suck the juice out of the flesh. Even the fibrous part of the fruit can be eaten when ripe, raw, boiled or roasted.
Palmyrah fruits are also used to make wonderful sweetmeats. The fruit pulp is made into kavum, a type of fried cake, and thal pinatu, a candy made of sheets of dry pulp sweetened with treacle. Thal hakuru (jaggery) is a dainty delicacy prepared by simmering sweet palm toddy into syrup, which is poured into tiny baskets made of thal leaves. The sugar is packed with nutrition and is a suitable sweetener in the preparation of various dishes.
The delicious and extremely nutritious snack, kotta kelangu, is prepared with palmyrah sprouts that have been left to germinate for about four months. The sprouts are cleaned, boiled and dried into the tough but popular snack. Palmyrah flour is also prepared from the dried yam and used for making a variety of traditional dishes such as unleavened bread, pittu and laddu.
The hardy fibre is excellent for utility items like rope, brushes and brooms. Dried leaves are woven into mats, baskets, containers and even light furniture. The unopened fronds when treated are excellent for weaving. They are cut, dried and shred into strips to be woven into delightful utility items.
The stem, which yields a sturdier fibre, is well suited for durable light furniture like small cabinets and stands.