beverage cake / dessert

Sago at Gulaman Pandan Samalamig (Pearl and Jelly Pandan Coolers)

Thursday, May 29, 2014Enz F

If there is one famous refreshment drink that we can consider a hallmark of a genuine and true blue Filipino epicure, it has to be the ubiquitous Pearl and Jelly Coolers or closest to our hearts as Sago’t Gulaman Samalamig. You probably survived the tropical heat of the Philippines if you have your own version of one of these childhood merienda stories to foretell – the memorable innocent days of having to comfort yourself with this sweet and re-hydrating beverage under a scorching summer afternoon. I can still remember my daytime snacks on fish balls and lumpia spring rolls which I had loved to douse with highly spiced sukang pinakurat (spicy native vinegar). With these heartwarming mouthfuls to gobble on as fiery as the sun, I did not mind withstanding the sweat dripping all over my forehead. My only refuge at that very precious moment was my refreshing ice cold samalamig which I had to guzzle down to rinse off my burning mouth and throat to finally seize the much awaited relief. Samalamig is a popular summer drink usually peddled in the streets in those giant transparent jugs which I am relatively certain every Pinoy kid are so familiar with. Also referred to as “palamig” which when literally translated in English would mean “to cool down”, this instant thirst quencher is usually seen either ladled in plastic cups or poured into small transparent plastic bags provided with straw. Many Filipino restaurants also serve this as an after-meal beverage-desserts served in tall footed glasses topped with plenty of shaved ice.

In a tropical country like the Philippines, an ice-cold refreshment is synonymous to happiness.
In a tropical country like the Philippines, where it is mostly sunny all year round, anything cold and refreshing apart from cold water is joy. Add sweetness, color and vibrance to it and it will definitely be a box-office hit. Sago at gulaman samalamig is a beverage concoction of tapioca or sago pearls, agar-agar jelly, brown sugar syrup, cold water and chunks of ice. To share with you some more of this childhood favorite, here is a little dose of information about its well-celebrated ingredients:

Sago is how we call those clear, soft and chewy balls that look similar to pearls. It is a misnomer that sago and tapioca pearls are referring to one and the same thing. Sago balls are originally made from the starchy material extracted from the spongy pith of the trees known as sago palm. The sago palms commonly thrive in tropical lowland forest and swamps of Papua New Guinea and the Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines. The sago starch also serves as a staple food for the inhabitants of the said regions. Unlike other coconut palm, sago would reproduce only once in its lifetime. It takes 7 to 15 years before the tree comes to maturity and its starch can be harvested and become usable. And in order to remove the starch, the tree must be cut down and its stem has to be ripped lengthwise. In the past, our ancestors would have to put down several sago palm tree in order to produce the essential sago which were used a lot in beverages and desserts like taho (soft tofu pudding with sugar syrup and sago pearl toppings). That has to be an awful destiny for the hundreds of trees that need to be cut down in the name of iced coolers, I reckon. On the other hand, the more popularly known as tapioca pearls in the first world countries are made from the starch of cassava root or yuca (also mandioca). The plants originate from Brazil and are cultivated in many parts of South America. Also known as boba and “frog spawn”, tapioca pearls are popular gluten-free component of many Asian desserts like puddings and bubble tea. Tapioca is also used as a thickening agent for soups, and being one of the purest forms of starch, it has become a favorite staple food for fasting. Since cassava plants are easier to grow and to replenish, tapioca pearls are more widely used than sago nowadays. In Philippine local markets, you can find an array of displayed cooked or uncooked tapioca or sago pearls in different colors and sizes, which are either sold in packet or per cup.

Meanwhile, agarose or agar is the carbohydrate extracted from the processed edible algae or seaweeds used in the production of gulaman. Unlike gelatin which is made from animal protein, gulaman is purely plant-derived. It is oftentimes dehydrated and formed into dry bars, and sometimes tinted with food colors. Gulaman or agar jelly is a popular component in making flans. It has a firmer texture and easily solidifies at room temperature as compared to animal-based gelatin which needs to be refrigerated to set. Several well-known Filipino desserts call for the use of gulaman sliced into small cubes and mixed with cream and milk. To name a few, buko pandan (coconut and pandan salad), halo-halo (Filipino hodgepodge dessert) and fruit cocktail salad are some of them. If you go to local markets, gulaman in dried bars, cooked or powdered forms, are usually displayed in trays beside the sago pearls for convenience. A well-dressed samalamig is indeed defined by high quality sago and gulaman.
An array of sago and gulaman, in variety of forms and colors, displayed side by side in a local grocery store.
Brown sugar, such as muscovado, is commonly used as an ingredient for arnibal or sweetening syrup for samalamig.
The soul of sago’t gulaman is no less than the sweetener being infused to it which adds life to all its wonderful colors. In Philippine cuisine, it is not as simple as diluting sugar granules into water. It is rather a sophisticated process of heating and caramelizing in order to achieve that viscous honey-like syrup. It is usually flavored with vanilla, pandan, banana and even strawberry. Arnibal or caramelized sugar is the thick brown liquid used as toppings to Filipino leche flan dessert (egg custard) and also as sweetener to soft tofu drink and fruit smoothies.

Sago't Gulaman is truly a banner flag of every parched Filipino around the world.
Sago at gulaman samalamig indeed carries the banner flag of every parched Filipino that transcends as far as the cocktails and the classy concoctions of the world. There may be no clear records to account for its real origin, but no doubt about here is, when ice and sugar became easily accessible and Filipinos began to learn to mix, summer was not only a ruthless spell that one wishes to get by. It has become a season for celebration.

Sago at Gulaman Pandan Samalamig (Pearl and Jelly Pandan Coolers)
Yields approximately 20 glasses 

For sago (pearl) 

  • ½ cup uncooked sago or tapioca pearls 
  • 3 tbsps. muscovado sugar 
  • 10 cups water 
  • 2 strands pandan leaves 
For gulaman (jelly) 
  • 1 stick dried agar-agar, flaked or 1 tbsp. gelatin powder 
  • 3 tbsps. muscovado sugar 
  • 3 cups water 
  • 2 strands pandan leaves 
For arnibal (sweet syrup) 
  • 2 cups muscovado sugar 
  • 4 strands pandan leaves 
  • 2 cups water 
For samalamig (cooler) 
  • water 
  • chunks of ice 

Prepare the sago (pearl) 
  1. In a large saucepan, mix the water, sugar and pandan leaves. Bring to boil over high heat. 
  2. Add sago and set the heat to simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent the sago from sticking. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the pearls. The bigger ones take longer to cook. When the sago pearls are almost translucent with a little dot of white in the center, they are done. 
  3. Transfer in a colander and discard the pandan leaves. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process or the sago will stick together and become gooey. Drain and set aside. 
Prepare the gulaman (jelly) 
  1. In a saucepan, soak the flaked jelly in water for 30 minutes. Skip this process if using the gelatin powder. Simply mix it with water until completely dissolved. 
  2. Add the pandan leaves and bring the liquid to a boil. Add in sugar and set to simmer until agar-agar is fully dissolved. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes. 
  3. Remove the pandan leaves and transfer the liquid jelly in a flat molder. 
  4. Allow to cool and refrigerate until gulaman is set. Slice the gulaman into small cubes and set aside. 
Prepare the arnibal (sweet syrup) 
  1. In a saucepan, boil the water, sugar and pandan leaves. Set the heat into simmer and continuously stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and begins to thicken. 
  2. Remove from heat and strain the syrup. Allow to cool. 
Assemble the samalamig (coolers) 
  1. Combine the sago and gulaman in a pitcher or individual glasses. 
  2. Add just enough arnibal to sweeten and pour in cold water. Mix until well blended. Chill with some chunks of ice and serve. Enjoy!  

  1. Vanilla extract are commonly used as a substitute to pandan leaves. 
  2. Adjust the amount of water and syrup to get the desired sweetness. 
  3. You can also add evaporated milk if you prefer your coolers creamy and milky.

You Might Also Like


Your comments and feedback are highly appreciated.

Let me hear your thoughts!


Email *

Message *

Follow my Instagram!