What is Panela?
Panela is a raw, organic sugar that is made conventionally by kettle-cooking sugarcane in small quantities. Gold, or golden-brown in color, Panela is a sustainably-made sweetener that Colombians, as well as those in other Latin American countries, harvest, produce and export as a sugar alternative.
We prefer using Panela to white and brown sugar. The rich, caramel flavor is a perfect complement to our baked goods and morning coffee.
History of Panela
Sugar farming is a booming business. This is especially true in Colombia, where millions of acres are dedicated to the cultivation of Panela sugar.
The history of Panela in Colombia is quite interesting. As JustPanela.com points out, Panela production is the “second largest source of income” for Colombian farmers, just after coffee (obviously). The country is a Net Exporter of sugar.
To back up that claim, a report from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, states that, “Colombia produces sugar year-round and is able to meet domestic demand without supply disruptions.”
We have to believe that some of that data came from Asocaña, the Colombian National Association of Sugar Producers.
Centrifugal vs Non-Centrifugal Sugar
Panela is considered to be a non-centrifugal sugar. It does not undergo the process of molasses separation. Refined white sugar is an example of a centrifugal sugar.
Processing the raw sugarcane removes some of the vitamins and minerals, including calcium and potassium. Same goes for iron and magnesium. Processing also removes some of the natural rich aromas, flavors and textures that are present in the raw sugarcane.
A review of Panela’s acidity can be found in this report - https://www.researchgate.net/figure/pH-a-w-and-colour-of-granulated-panelas_tbl1_250045625
Benefits of Panela
Panela is far less processed than the over-the-counter and on-the-shelf sugars that are available for purchase at large chain grocers around the world. Those traditional methods are what make Panela a better choice when it comes to replacing brown and white sugar in your baked goods, cooked meals, and tasty beverages.
The organic sugar is typically produced in sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways, which is another such benefit of using it in your smoothies, adult cocktails and everyday cooking needs.
Types & Varieties
Regional factors such as climate and soil help to determine the flavor profile of Panela. Additionally, Panela’s minimal industrial processing helps to retain the natural terroir - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terroir - of the sugarcane.
Panela, as a finished product, is sold in granulated, liquid, and solid form. Depending on the consistency, you can grate, pour or slice the unrefined sugar.
Recipes Using Panela
- Aguapanela. - https://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/es/aguapanela-o-agua-de-panela/
- Canelazo. - https://www.laylita.com/recipes/canelazo-and-naranjillazo-drinks/ It’s essentially an alcoholic version of Aguapanela.
- Chicha de Maiz - https://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/chicha-de-maiz-corn-drink/
- Tepache - https://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/homemade-pineapple-brew/ - Tepache is a fermented, low alcohol beverage made with Panela and Pineapple peels. Sound delicious? That’s because it is.
How is Panela Made?
Panela is made by drying or dehydrating the raw juice of sugarcane over a low heat. The substance is then given to molds that produce the shape and size of the finished product. Many producers take the process one step further and grind or pulverize the sweetener into a fine powder.
Hint: It’s great for coffee.
Is Panela Gluten-Free?
Yes, Panela is considered to be Gluten-Free. You can use Panela in your Artisanal, Gluten-Free recipes at will. It’s also considered to be Vegan.
Which Countries Produce Panela?
Colombia is high on the list of Panela-producing countries. Other countries in Latin America such as Ecuador and Venezuela also produce the product. That said, several countries around the globe produce similar types of sugar, just with different names and slightly different product processes.
For instance, Brazil calls it Rapadura.
Which Countries Receive Colombian Panela Exports?
Peru, Chile, United States, Ecuador, Haiti, China, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, and Canada are the primary countries that purchase Colombian sugar.
Where Can I Buy Panela in the United States?
Customers can purchase Panela and Panela-based products online at Amazon, as well as in-store at large grocers such as Whole Foods, Walmart and more. You can also find the alternative sugar source as small specialty markets around the country.
We prefer online checkout and delivery systems for our bulk goods.
Is Panela the Same as Piloncillo, Sucanut, or Turbinado?
Piloncillo is the Mexican verison of Panela. Apparently the word panela is already in use in Mexico, as it refers to Queso Panela.
Sucanut is a trademarked product that was brought to market in 1978 by Pronatec. It is said to be dried sugar cane juice, similar to Gur, Jaggery, Muscovado, Rapadura, and of course, Panela. Chancaca is another term for the unrefined cane sugar product.
Turbinado is a minimally processed sugar that is similar to Panela in many ways, but still more refined than its cousin.
What Other Sugar Alternatives Exist?
Agave Syrup, Erythritol, Honey, Maple Syrup, Monk Fruit, Palm Sugar and Stevia are some examples of sugar alternatives.
To use Panela is not to use a sugar alternative though. Panela is not an alternative to sugar itself, but rather an alternative sweetener to brown sugar and refined white sugar.
Is Panela Good for Diabetics?
“As a more complex carbohydrate, Panela is a good choice for diabetics and athletes.”, according to Azure Standard.
Panela has a glycemic index (GI) of 65. It’s rated at approximately 15 calories per teaspoon. Something to know if you’re adding it to your coffee by the spoonful.
We aren’t medical professionals, but it would stand to reason that Panela is better than refined white sugar for diabetics. Either way, consult a professional opinion before making a judgment call if you’re a diabetic considering using organic Panela in your baking or food and drink prep.
References & Sources