Panela is a simply the juice squeezed from the sugar cane that is boiled, evaporated and formed into cakes for easy transportation and distribution. In Mexico it is called piloncillo, in Venezuela – papelon, in Brazil – rapadura and in the Andes – chancaca.
Traditionally Colombia has been the principal producer of panela in the world and it is an important agricultural activity within the country. Colombians are also the largest consumers of panela in the world.
Panela is used mainly for a drink called Aguapanela. This is prepared by breaking the block of sugar into smaller pieces, boiling it in a pot of water and then serving hot or cold. With lime added it is often served when a person has a cold or the flu.
The largest crop grown in the world is sugarcane. It is part of the grass family and its stalks produce a sugary liquid when compressed. It is possible to drink this juice which is called Guarapo. This fluid extracted from the cane, when boiled and evaporated become panela.
This product has a flavour which is not unlike molasses. It also has a texture like candy made from Maple Syrup and melts quickly in your mouth. When ground it can be used as a sugar substitute and certainly this is very common in the lower economic stratas – much to their benefit as we will see in another article.
In January, in the town of Villeta, Cundinamarca (about 90 km from Bogota) there is a National Panela Pageant. Every year a national queen is selected based on their popularity, beauty and their knowledge about the marketing and production of the town’s most important product.