The delicious spread known as kaya jam is a popular breakfast treat across Southeast Asia. Sometimes called ‘Malaysian coconut egg jam’ or more simply ‘coconut jam’, it’s made from coconut cream, sugar, eggs and water, and is occasionally flavored with leaves from the pandan plant (which also turns it a bright green color!).
In its simplest form, kaya jam is like a sweet coconut custard that’s best eaten when thickly slathered onto crust-free bread and sipped alongside your morning coffee. If you’ve never tried this Asian version of dulce de leche, now’s the time to start!
What is Malaysian Coconut Jam?
The word Kaya means ‘rich’ in the Malay language, which is a perfect descriptor for this smooth spread that has a significantly rich texture and taste. It’s found most commonly in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, where it’s typically enjoyed as a breakfast dish and spread on toast. It’s also known as srikaya or seri kaya in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Though the specific history of kaya jam is somewhat unknown, the tradition of spreading it on toast is said to come from Chinese kitchen workers who were employed on British ships in Singapore during the 1800s. By using coconut, eggs and pandan leaves, they adapted the British fondness for toast at breakfast time and made it their own, selling toast slices topped with local Asian jams and sauces like kaya.
Nowadays, Malaysian toast is a common breakfast dish in coffee houses. Though usually eaten in the morning, you can usually find kaya toast available in night markets too – there’s no issue with eating it at any time of day or night.
Variations of Kaya Jam
There are a few variations of kaya coconut jam, most easily spotted by their color. Typical kaya jam is a golden brown, but occasionally you’ll spot a pale green version!
This variation is called Nonya kaya, and is flavored with leaves of fresh pandan (screwpine) leaves. Adding pandan to kaya jam stems from a community of Malay people who traditionally use pandan leaves in much of their cooking.
There’s also Hainanese kaya, with a darker brown color that’s made using caramelized sugar and sometimes honey too. It’s much sweeter than the regular kaya jam.
You can also make a vegan coconut jam by substituting the eggs for silken tofu instead.
What Does Kaya Jam Taste Like?
On its own, the taste of kaya jam is sweet, coconutty, rich, and a bit floral. Pandan juice has a vanilla-like flavor with a hint of coconut too, so it really complements the pre-existing taste of kaya jam. That said, you may need a bit of additional sweetness as pandan can have a bitter quality to it if the juice is too concentrated.
Kaya jam works really well when added to carbs, so aside from being spread on toast and bread, kaya jam is also a great filling or topping in cassava cakes, soft buns, and glutinous rice desserts.
How to Make Kaya Jam
The basic ingredients you need for following a kaya recipe are 3/4 cup coconut cream, 150g palm sugar or brown sugar, 3-4 eggs and a pinch of sea salt.
Making kaya jam from scratch can take a really long time, as it requires a significant amount of labor to first caramelize white sugar, thin it with water, add beaten eggs mixed with coconut milk and whisk just the right amount over low heat. Too much whisking could separate your mixture, whereas too little whisking (and too much heat) could scramble the eggs!
After an hour of careful and continuous stirring over a low heat of 180’F, it’ll reach the thick, smooth and glossy consistency that’s required of kaya jam. Once it’s cooled, run your kaya mixture through a blender until smooth.
If you’re not keen on spending an hour stirring your jam though, there are a few easy-to-follow recipe hacks that make cooking kaya jam much more simple – and quick – to prepare:
- Using coconut or palm sugar instead of white sugar eliminates the caramelizing stage, but you still get all of the caramel-like sweetness
- Egg whites need to be cooked at a low heat or they’ll curdle. Separating your eggs and just using the yolks avoids this issue
- Using the thick coconut cream from the top of a can instead of thinner coconut milk will help thicken your kaya from the outset
Stored in the fridge in an airtight container, your homemade kaya jam will keep for a week. If you can wait that long to eat it, of course!