Sago /ˈseɪɡoʊ/ is a starch extracted from the spongy centre, or pith, of various tropical palm stems, especially Metroxylon sagu. It is a major staple food for the lowland peoples of New Guinea and the Moluccas, where it is called saksak, rabia and sagu. A type of flour, called sago flour, is made from sago. The largest supply of sago comes from the East Indies. Large quantities of sago are sent to Europe and North America for cooking purposes. 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 is often produced commercially in the form of “pearls”. Sago pearls can be boiled with water or milk and sugar to make a sweet sago pudding. Sago pearls are similar in appearance to tapioca pearls and the two may be used interchangeably in some dishes.
The name sago is also sometimes used for starch extracted from other sources, especially the sago cycad, Cycas revoluta. The sago cycad is also commonly known (confusingly) as the sago palm, although this is a misnomer as cycads are not palms. Extracting edible starch from the sago cycad requires special care due to the poisonous nature of cycads. Cycad sago is used for many of the same purposes as palm sago. In Sri Lanka it is known as sawu or sau (Sinhalese: සව්) and is used to prepare a congee named sawu kenda (Sinhalese: සව් කැඳ). In India, it is manufactured from extract of cassava i.e. tapioca-root, and popularly known asTapioca Sago – Sabudana (Urdu: ساگودانه;Hindi: साबुदाना; Marathi : साबुदाणा; Kannada : ಸಬ್ಬಕ್ಕಿ ; Gujarati: સાબુદાણા; Telugu: సగ్గు బియ్యం Tamil : ஜவ்வரிசி).
The fruit of palm trees from which the sago is produced is not allowed to ripen fully. The full ripening completes the life cycle of the tree and exhausts the starch centre to produce the seeds. It leaves a hollow shell and causes the tree to die. The palms are cut down when they are about 15 years old, just before they are ready to flower. The stems, which grow to 30 feet (9 metres high), are split out. The starch pith is taken from the stems and ground to powder. A single palm yields about 800 pounds (360 kilograms) of starch. The powder is kneaded in water over a cloth or sieve. It passes into a trough where it settles. After a few washings, the flour is ready to be used in cooking.