Sago from Metroxylon palms is nearly pure carbohydrate and has very little protein, vitamins, or minerals. 100 grams of dry sago typically comprises 94 grams of carbohydrate, 0.2 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of dietary fiber, 10 mg of calcium, 1.2 mg of iron and negligible amounts of fat, carotene, thiamine and ascorbic acid and yields approximately 355 calories. Sago palms are typically found in areas unsuited for other forms of agriculture, so sago cultivation is often the most ecologically appropriate form of land-use and the nutritional deficiencies of the food can often be compensated for with other readily available foods.
A sago pancake
Sago starch can be baked (resulting in a product analogous to bread, pancake, or biscuit) or mixed with boiling water to form a paste. It is a main staple of many traditional communities in New Guinea and Maluku in the form of papeda, Borneo, South Sulawesi (most known in Luwu Regency) and Sumatra. In Palembang, sago is one of the ingredients to make pempek. In Brunei, it is used for making the popular local cuisine called the ambuyat. It is also used commercially in making noodles and white bread. Sago starch can also be used as a thickener for other dishes. It can be made into steamed puddings such as sago plum pudding.
In Malaysia, the traditional food "keropok lekor" (fish cracker) uses sago as one of its main ingredients. In the making of the popular keropok lekor of Losong in Kuala Terengganu, each kilogram of fish meat is mixed with half a kilogram of fine sago, with a little salt added for flavour. Tons of raw sago are imported each year into Malaysia to support the keropok lekor industry.
In 1805, two captured crew members of the shipwrecked schooner Betsey were kept alive until their escape from an undetermined island on a diet of sago.
Any starch can be pearled by heating and stirring small aggregates of moist starch, producing partly gelatinized dry kernels which swell but remain intact on boiling. Pearl sago closely resembles pearl tapioca. Both are typically small (about 2 mm diameter) dry, opaque balls. Both may be white (if very pure) or colored naturally grey, brown or black, or artificially pink, yellow, green, etc. When soaked and cooked, both become much larger, translucent, soft and spongy. Both are widely used in Indian, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan cuisine in a variety of dishes and around the world, usually in puddings. In India, it is used in a variety of dishes such as desserts boiled with sweetened milk on occasion of religious fasts. In India, "Tapioca Sago" is considered an acceptable form of nutrition during periods of fasts for religious purposes or for infants or ill persons.
In the UK, both sago and tapioca have long been used in sweet milk puddings.
In New Zealand, sago is boiled with water and lemon juice and sweetened with golden syrup to make lemon sago pudding.
In India, Tapioca Sago is used mainly to make the food items like "Kheer","Khichadi", "Vada" etc.
Because many traditional people rely on sago-palm as their main food staple and because those supplies of these are not unlimited, in some areas commercial or industrial harvesting of wild stands of sago-palm can conflict with the food needs of local communities.