For those of you who love our Panela, or would like to now more about it - this photo in Buesaco, Nariño and shows an earth oven burning dried sugar canes. The fire is part of the Panela making process. Earth ovens are a common, safe, cheap, and more environmentally friendly method of producing Panela.
In Colombia, we call panela production facilities 'trapiches', which are mostly concentrated in the Valle del Cauca department surrounding Cali. This was because these were the low lands where the Spanish first introduced sugar cane plantations. Nowadays, harvesting the Colombian sugarcane is still not an easy task - with workers working during intense hot climates by hand and using donkeys as a transportation medium.
The benefits of panela are believed to provide more minerals and vitamins due to it's unrefined process. Firstly, the fresh cane juice is extracted from the sugar cane which is then boiled over earthen ovens. Boiled to various degrees of temperature in order to bubble away, it produce a deep caramely brown liquid sugar paste with grainy chunks of purified crystallised sugar. It is amazing to note that whatever remains after extraction is used as fuel, acting as a zero waste solution which also keeps fuel costs down. They are then transferred and molded into shapes, ready to harden!
Traditionally, farmers used to make panela manually in their small farms using earthen ovens to sell them to local markets. However, nowadays, the issues in the inconsistency of quality control, many farmers ended up selling the panela at a loss in local markets (due to the fluctuations of cost in growing sugar cane). Therefore the introduction of new technology at 'trapiches' has provided a more cost-effective way for small families and farmers to run their own sugar cane farms.
Panela is used in a traditional Colombian drink, aqua de panela, which is raw unrefined cane sugar dissolved into hot or cold water, with some lime or lemon. Have you tried ours yet?