What is it? A solid mass of evaporated cane juice. Completely unrefined, its richer flavor is developed from a natural process that consists of boiling cane juice until all the liquid has evaporated, leaving behind a mass of brown fructose and sucrose. Panela is the name used for the Colombian version of this product, but it is also popular globally. In Mexico, it is known as piloncillo; in Peru and Costa Rica, chancaca; Brazil, rapadura; India and Pakistan, jaggery.
What is it used for? Aguapanela is a drink made of water and a chunk of panela, served hot or cold and native to Colombia. Other dishes include treats like flan or capirotada (1). It is used in place of sugar most often, for a richer flavor.
Where can you buy it in Houston? Find it in almost any grocery store in Houston, mostly in the Hispanic food section in solid discs or blocks.
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Recipe: Panela Pralines, courtesy of About.com