Pearl sago is a form of starch much like tapioca, used for puddings, and various foods for conva lescents and children, because it is a form of starch that is easy of digestion. It does not come from roots nor tubers, as much starch does, nor from seeds, as does the starch made from corn and other grains. It is obtained from a number of palms, particularly from one species.
The sago palm grows in the East Indies, in swampy ground near the coasts. For fifteen years it grows without flowering, the stem topped by a crown of feathery leaves. The pith of the stout trunk is surrounded by a thick rind, and when the time of maturity arrives, it is simply bursting with rich, starchy material. This is the tree's reserve, laid up for use in sending up the flower cluster and ripening the fruit. Let the tree keep to its natural function, and the rind will stand, a hollow shell, the leaves dead and the ripe fruits fallen, at the end of the year of blossom. It is the tree's time to die.
The sago palm is too valuable a tree to be left to round out its own career by going to seed. Just when the stem is loaded with starchy pith the sago hunter has it cut down. Systematically the trunk is sectioned and then split, and the rind scraped of all the pith, which is grated to a pulp. Next, the pulp is worked with the hands in troughs full of water, until all the starch has settled to the bottom, and only dry fibre remains. Separate washings rid the starch of impurities, and it is dried. Now it is ready for use in the cakes and soups upon which the natives live.
Sago in commerce is in the form of small pellets. The native prepares the floury starch for export by working it up in a paste with water. Then he forces the paste through a sort of colander or sieve, and it dries in small bits. Different sizes have different trade names, but all sago is the same substance, a valuable starchy food.