Panela is dehydrated raw sugarcane juice that retains molasses so it is maintains its naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. As a complex carbohydrate, Panela breaks down slower in your bloodstream, providing you sustained energy as opposed to the sugar spikes brought on by refined sugars.
Panela dates back to at least 400 BC in the heart of Bengal, India where the Gupta dynasty discovered how to crystallize sugar. It was through Indian sailors traveling trade routes and conquests that sugar travels north and west into Europe. In the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great conquered parts of Western Asia and returned with what he called the ‘sacred reed’. His admiral Nearchos sailed from the Persian Gulf along the Indus River, where the sugar canes fields stretched as far as the eye can see. Nearchos tasted the cane, and exclaimed, “Indian canes that make sugar without bees.” Traveling Buddhist monks brought the sugar crystallization methods to China during the reign of Harsha (r. 606–647) with the help of Indian envoys that taught them sugarcane cultivation and sugar refining methods.
It is the same small sugar mill inspired process that traditional farmers in India and South American still use today.
But what is the difference between white sugar and Panela?
Panela is sugar cane juice that is pressed through non-centrifugal machines so the nutrients aren’t affected by this step. It is lightly boiled in pans with copper bottoms so that residue from heated steel doesn’t leech into the sugar. It is then cleaned with natural ingredients before being poured into large steel bowls to be blended with long wooden paddles. When it thickens enough it is set into molds to solidify. That’s it!
The entire process is efficient and sustainable because the creative farmers make sure to use all parts of the plant. After pressing the juice out of sugar cane the leftover stalk is used to fuel the flame below the cooking Panela. Any Panela that doesn’t meet their market standards is incorporated into their animal feed and the soot left over from the burnt sugar cane pulp is used as nutrition for the soil that their next harvest will grow in.
However, white and brown sugar takes the process further by clarifying the cane juice with additions like lime. After evaporation and centrifugation, it is then further refined through the chemical ingredients like sulphur dioxide, phosphoric acid, and decolorizers. These processes remove all the phytonutrients, including the vitamins and minerals, leaving behind empty calories.
Centrifugal machinery affects the nutrients in juices. You can easily see the effects comparing cold press juices to centrifugally blended juice.
How does Panela stack up?
**Total phenolic content in honey varies by floral variety. Several types from gallberry, Manuka, and multifloral displayed a total phenolic content >1000 μg GAE/g while the lowest, a citrus honey, had a total phenolic content of 286 μg GAE/g.
Next time the “evil sugar” debate starts up remember that not all sugar is made equal.
Raw, unrefined cane sugar is a staple food item used around the world with names like Panela, Jaggary, Gur, and many more for good reason. It is a wholesome alternative to refined sugar that can help you avoid some of the major complaints that pester sugar. Panela can be used as a 1:1 replacement for almost any sugar.
Give it a try in our coffee cubes or swing by your local grocery to incorporate it into a recipe of your own.
Physicochemical and antioxidant properties of non-refined sugarcane alternatives to white sugar- Lucia Segui, Laura Calabuig-Jimenez, Noelia Betoret, Pedro Fito; Volume 50, Issue 12 December 2015 Pages 2579–2588