Panela: what is it, benefits and contraindications

Panela is an ingredient that you can use as an alternative sweetener to sugar. Look at its health benefits.

Last update: November 22, 2021

Today, when government organizations promote a healthy lifestyle, looking for natural substitutes for refined sugar to sweeten certain preparations. Panela is one of them, since it has fewer calories. In addition, it is also an ingredient that surprises in the gastronomic world.

Panela owes its name to the rectangular blocks used to mold molasses obtained from sugar cane juice. Its origin dates from the conquest of the American continent by the Spanish, while it was popular in India. Its nutritional value is said to exceed that of refined sugar.

A little history

Nutritionist María Mascieti comments on the history of panela. This product is obtained from sugar cane, a plant native to New Guinea that, in 1538, during the Spanish conquest, was planted and expanded in Colombia. From that time, the peasants built the so-called mills to grind and squeeze the cane, obtaining a sweet drink.

According to the Association of Sugar Cane Farmers and Producers, these crops are among the oldest in the world. They are thought to have started about 3000 years before the modern era, in New Guinea.

Since 1650, sugarcane juice was obtained manually, using hundreds of African slaves as labor. Over the years and technological advances, human and animal power was replaced by hydraulic systems and motors that made the process faster.

As the seventeenth century entered, the cultivation of sugarcane spread throughout various areas of Colombia, obtaining derived products, such as guarapo, white sugar, brown sugar and panela.

According to a document from the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture, there are 25 countries that produce panela. 61% of the total sugarcane cultivated is for obtaining the product.

The search for a replacement for refined sugar has led to the testing of other alternatives, among which is panela.

Preparation of panela

Raymond, in the article “Traditional Hacienda and Sharecropping”, explains the process of obtaining panela. The sugar cane is pressed in a mill called sugar mill, with the exit of a sweet natural cane juice. This juice is concentrated, placing the pot on the fire until it thickens like honey, which contains 78 kilos of sugar for every 100 kilos of honey.

Then it continues to evaporate until reaching 93 kilos of sugar. It is added to some molds or drawers, where it becomes compact and solid: it is block panela, which reaches 96 kilos of sugar for every 100 kilos of honey. Continue beating with intensity until the granulated panela is achieved.

According to a group of agro-industrial engineers, the correct measurement of the amount of sugar in honeys is crucial to obtain a good quality panela. Attention must also be paid to raw materials, instruments and personnel.

Panela is also called whole sugar, abrasion, paper, piloncillo, breaded, chancaca or pussy in Latin American countries. In India and Pakistan it is called gur or jaggery.

As the panela does not receive any type of refining or centrifugation, or any other form of purification, it preserves all the properties of sugar cane.

Nutritional characteristics of panela

According to the published data sheet for panela, it must comply with the following nutritional components in grams per 100 grams of panela:

  • Humidity: 23.
  • Reducing sugars: 3.74.
  • Fat: 0.29.
  • Saccharose: 93.37.
  • Protein: 0.62.
  • Ashes: 1.61.
  • Total calories: 383.97 kilocalories.

The minerals are expressed in milligrams for each kilo of panela:

  • Sodium: 241.6.
  • Iron: 24.94.
  • Zinc: 12.74.
  • Calcium: 356.84.
  • Potassium: 593.73.
  • Magnesium: 386.32.

As can be seen, since panela is a natural product, it preserves the nutritional properties of sugar cane. With the difference that, in common sugar, sucrose is almost 100%. In addition, panela has the minerals of its raw material.

Properties of panela

Despite being a sweetener with high amounts of sugar, panela has a series of properties that we will discuss below:

  • It is an artisan product, not processed, which does not include additives. This gives it certain advantages over refined sugar, which only provides empty calories. Although 100 grams of panela also contain a high energy value.
  • It is a natural sweetener that contains certain nutrients that are not present in refined sugar. For instance, provides iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. But it must be taken into account that they are values ​​expressed in milligrams per kilo of panela consumed. It is impossible and counterproductive to eat so much panela to obtain these micronutrients.
  • Wellington Villalta, from the University of Cuenca, states in his work that panela provides quick energy, hydrates the skin and acts as a healing agent. Like traditional honey, panela honey also has a balsamic and expectorant effect.
  • According to the Technical University of Ecuador, panela with hot water relieves colds.

Remember that high sugar consumption is associated with the development of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and metabolic pathologies. In addition, more scientific studies are needed to support this information.

Panela provides micronutrients, but to achieve significant values, a large amount would have to be consumed daily, which is not recommended.

Use in gastronomy

The sweetening capacity of panela is similar to that of white sugar. For that reason, it is used as a substitute to prepare sweets, jams, syrups, cakes and other pastry recipes.

Panela is often used to prepare hot or cold sugary drinks. An example is the famous and refreshing lemon juice with panela. It is popular in Latin American countries, especially in Venezuela.

Other simple and easy drinks to prepare at home are dark chocolate or coffee with panela, traditional from Colombia, and aguapanela, typical of the Caribbean. It is taken cold and served to give energy.

The coconut cornmeal delicacy is a dessert. Other Latin American sweets are marshmallows and alfandoque. You can prepare the famous guarapo, which is an alcoholic beverage obtained by fermenting this product.

Panela is a versatile sweetenerAs not only are pastry and confectionery products made, but it can also be a secret ingredient in some recipes that require a contrasting touch of sweetness. For Christmas, it is used in many South American countries to caramelize and contrast the baked pork leg.

Panela contraindications

Although panela is a natural sweetener, it still has a high concentration of sugar. Next we will mention the most striking contraindications that should be taken into account:

  • May produce a greater feeling of hunger: a group of pharmacologists and biochemists assures that leptin, a peptide that regulates the sensation of hunger, is altered when consuming sugar. Resistance to leptin has been found in the obese, which leads to an increased appetite.
  • It is not suitable for diabetic peopleAlthough it is true that it has less sugar than refined, the predominant carbohydrate is sucrose.
  • It damages dental health: the sugar contained in panela, if consumed frequently, can affect the glaze and facilitate the appearance of cavities.
  • Helps weight gain: if you eat it in excess it will be very easy to accumulate fat and gain weight.

Panela must be consumed responsibly. More controlled research is needed on what causes its intake in some chronic diseases in humans. So far, its greatest proven effects are energetic, healing and moisturizing the skin.

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