Panela, another Fantastico Colombian Product!
The coffee zone of Colombia is not just a perfect location for producing the very best coffee in the world, along with enormous amounts of tropical fruits. But it is also a grand source of the world’s sugar cane, and in fact, Colombia is the 10th largest sugar cane producer in the world.
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Although the vast majority of this sugar cane is centrifuged and crystallized to create table sugar, a large amount goes into the production of panela. In point of fact, Colombia is the 2nd largest producer of Panela in the world behind India!
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But why Panela? What’s so special about this brown stone?
Is Panela healthier than Sugar?
The production of pure Panela is largely unchanged dating back over 500 years into the 1600s. For the majority of farmers, the sugarcane is still cut by hand using machetes and is then transported to a Trapiche (Panela factory) where it is pressed to allow the green sugarcane juice within to escape. This liquid is then boiled and dried, retaining many minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and protein. Making it a healthier product than the chemically processed table sugar that is by far the more popular product.
Indeed, in Colombia, this healthy product is so easily available, and at such a low cost, that many mothers will bottle-feed their babies Agua-panela; a sweet drink created from dissolving the finished panela product in hot water. In reality, this is also a very popular drink amongst many Colombians of all ages and backgrounds, who will often enjoy this warm beverage with some fresh cheese as an evening meal.
With the grand mountain ranges and extreme altitudes, Colombia has been a great producer of world-class cyclists. And in a panela twist to this story, during the 1970s many European cyclist competing in Colombia sent messages back home of a magic brown stone that the Colombian cyclist would suck on to give them the energy to climb the steep ascents. This stone turned out to be the magic brown Panela paddy.
Most Colombian Trapiches are small and only go into production for 2-3 days a week. With workers spending the remainder of their time working the fields or preparing the factory for production. Generally, the number of days is dictated by the amount of sugarcane that has been cut in the fields and piled up during the week.
Once the sugar cane is pressed to produce the juice, a process of boiling, stirring, mixing, and scoping the boiling liquid from pan to pan begins and continues for some time until the syrup starts to cool, and begins to take a new fudge-like form. This is then molded into Panela patties and set aside to cool down completely before it is wrapped and packed for sale.
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