Technique Thursdays: How to Make Healthier Kaya

Love kaya but its literally heart-stopping ingredients - not so much? Try your hand at urban farming specialist Cynthea Lam's healthier version of the local coconut jam favourite.
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So many diabetic patients I’ve met have expressed their desires to savour once more their favourite local dishes that they’ve had to give up because of their condition. So, when I discovered the wonders of the Stevia plant, I felt compelled to create a recipe that would taste like home, but without the dangers of fluctuating blood sugar and insulin levels.

In line with our nation’s 51st birthday fanfare, I decided to celebrate the Singaporean breakfast staple, Kaya. Versions of it are enjoyed across the region from Thailand to The Phillipines but in Singapore, one popular account holds that kaya was created by Hainanese cooks when they saw their British employers eating toast with fruit jams. However, being poor, they decided to replicate the spread, using ingredients that were easily accessible here on our tropical island, resulting in a coconut jam.

(Related: Recipe for Ondeh-ondeh or Klepon)

Using just four ingredients, making Kaya is all about having patience and being observant. The technique is similar to making custard: constant stirring under low heat to ensure a smooth consistency. If you rush by turning the heat up, the Kaya will curdle and become scrambled eggs.

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In this healthier version, I replace sugar with fresh Stevia leaves. The Stevia plant is easy to grow and maintain in our climate. Its intense sweetness also deters pests, making this indoor-friendly plant a dream to grow. To start your own Stevia plant, simply snip off five inches of stem from the top, strip off the bigger leaves in the bottom one inch, cut all other medium sized leaves into half (and consume the discarded halves) and stick the cutting into a medium pot of moist, well-draining, loamy organic soil.

Cutting the leaves into halves prevents the new stem cutting from excessive transpiration, hence encouraging the cutting to preserve energy to root quicker.

Place the pot in a well-ventilated spot away from direct sun. Water every other day but sparingly. Your new cutting will take a little longer than other herbs to grow roots, so do be patient, and check back in three weeks by giving your cutting a little tug. If it tugs back, roots have developed, and that is what we want to achieve.

(Related: What is... lemak)

The sweetness of the Stevia leaves are 150 times that of cane sugar, without any of the calories or side effects on blood sugar and insulin levels. Dried Stevia leaves and powdered Stevia has a more intense sweetness as compared to fresh Stevia leaves, so, do double the amount of fresh Stevia leaves in your recipe. As a rule of thumb, one cup of cane sugar’s sweetness is equivalent to that of one teaspoon of powdered Stevia.

Recipe: A Healthier Kaya

Ingredients for kaya
Ingredients for kaya
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Ingredients

  • 4 medium/large eggs
  • 1 cup coconut milk (if you’re using coconut cream, dilute it with a bit with water to make 1 cup of coconut milk)
  • 5 teaspoon of fresh Stevia leaves or half teaspoon of powdered Stevia (or half cup of cane sugar)
  • 4 pieces of Pandan leaves
Method
  1. Cut Pandan leaves into one-inch pieces and pound until masticated
  2. Soak Pandan leaves in coconut milk for one minute
  3. Chop finely Stevia leaves or stir in powdered Stevia into eggs, hand-whisk well
  4. Sieve coconut milk into egg mixture and mix well in a small cooking pot
  5. Place cooking pot over double boiler or a wok of water with a towel placed underneath pot to prevent over-heating
  6. Turn heat to low and stir frequently until liquids have reduced and gluey consistency has formed (usually takes 45 mins to 1 hour)
  7. Turn heat off and let Kaya sit until cool. (Kaya will continue to thicken while cooling down)
  8. Spoon Kaya into clean, dry glass jars and keep refrigerated for two weeks
  9. Enjoy kaya with thick slabs of butter on traditional white toast or for a healthy alternative, spread Kaya on lightly buttered gluten-free toast
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