Anyone know what to do with Columbian Panela?

I bought it in the extensive Latin foods section of a local supermarket in Stamford, CT. It comes in a 1-pound round disk. Ingredients say 100% brown sugar cane. Is is just compacted brown sugar??



drbabs February 4, 2013
mrslarkin, see if your library has the new cookbook Gran Cocina Latina. It's a wonderful book--both as a cookbook and as a way to understand the various countries in Latin America, their culture, and their cuisine. There are lots of recipes for panela.
Zebra B. February 4, 2013
I've been using this for several months - it is pure, evaporated cane juice. I put it in a pot with equal amounts of water, turn it on lowest stove setting, and wait about 15 minutes, stirring only about once every 5 minutes or so, till completely dissolved. When it cools, I put it in a squeeze-bottle and use it the same way I would use white sugar, but you have to use a little more of the liquid than you would white sugar, since it is wonderfully pure and not refined to within an inch of its life like sugar is! I LOVE this stuff - and NO CHEMICALS!
Anitalectric July 14, 2011
It is less refined than brown sugar and has more flavor. It is essentially boiled-down sugarcane juice. One of the great things about using it as a sweetener is all the flavor it adds. You almost don't even need to add vanilla. Unrefined sugarcane has so many subtle flavors.

You can grate it with the large holes of a box grater to use in recipes that call for brown or regular sugar. You can also whack it apart and whizz it in the food processor if it has been sitting around a while and gets too hard to grate.

There is also a traditional Colombian drink called Canelazo I have always wanted to make. Kind of an Andean hot dissolve the panela in some boiling water, and while it is hot, pour into cups with a shot of aguardiente. Usually served with a cinnamon stick! I had this in the mountains of Cali one summer. The city is in the valley where it is hot, and the surrounding mountains are cold, so to beat the heat people get in their cars and snake up the mountain roads to these little roadside stands. Once you get there and start to get cold you drink a Canelazo or hot chocolate to warm up. Colombians are so funny.

Usually there is a picada served on the side which is a shared platter heaped high with goodies that includes mini arepas (grilled corn cakes), little boiled/salted potatoes, fried yucca and chincharrones. Sorry to stray from the subject but I just wanted to give you the whole picture!!
Stephanie G. July 14, 2011
if panela is like piloncillo,(and I think it is) this is my favorite recipe from one of my favorite restuarants, Liberty Bar in San Antonio. Everyone loves this on grilled bread.
Theodore Z. January 9, 2020
I believe they are both simply sugar cane which has been juiced, boiled down, poured into molds, and allowed to cool and harden. I believe the different names just refer to the shape of the molds. In different regions of Latin America different shaped molds are typically used. I am not sure if sometimes a tiny bit of lard or other lipid may be added to keep down the level of foam as the cane juice is boiled. Like maybe 2 milliliters per liter. The rest of the foam is just whisked away from the surface of the boiling pot with a board. Incidentally the same thing is done with maple syrup. The amount is so small that it doesn't need to be listed on the label.
mrslarkin July 14, 2011
Thanks everyone! Such great ideas. I'm really glad I bought it.

Hmmmm...I wonder if there's a way to correct the spelling in one of the tags I left.
garlic&lemon July 13, 2011
Panela is unrefined cane sugar, also known as piloncillo in Mexico. There is a cool YouTube video on how it is made:

In order to use it, you must either shave it for use as dark brown sugar, or dissolve it in water. My favorite uses are: Cafe de Olla (Coffee Made in a Saucepan) and Capirotada, a bread pudding made with cheese, peanuts, almonds & raisins, a traditional Lenten dish in Latin America.

For Cafe de Olla (1 serving): Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add 4 Tablespoons dark-roasted, coarsely ground coffee, 1-inch stick cinnamon, and panela/piloncillo to taste (basically break, hack or saw some off and toss it in). Bring to a boil, take off heat and stir, bring to a boil again. Then strain and serve. This is a very old-timey and traditional Mexican way of making "home" style coffee. The old way of straining it was through a cloth filter. Paper filters work ok. Hardly anyone makes just one serving at a time, but the proportions are the same for larger quantities.

For use in bread pudding (or rice pudding) make a syrup:
4 cups water
8 oz. panela/piloncillo
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
Combine in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, simmer 20 minutes. Strain or fish out the cinnamon sticks and cloves.

I also like this syrup to reconstitute dried fruit for compotes. After you taste it, you will think of many other uses.

By the way, the country is spelled Colombia.
Juergen H. July 13, 2011
A few ideas here (not mine):
beyondcelery July 13, 2011
I once used this in place of jaggery in a sort of Sri Lankan rice porridge. It has much the same flavors as jaggery--more molasses caramely than the flavor of regular brown sugar. To my understanding, it's basically unrefined sugar cane. Try Panfusine's recipe for Sinfully Divine 'Lehiyam' truffles:
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