There are a host of reasons to stay away from the evils of bleached White sugar1. (AS Well as most other processed food, but that’s another big topic to cover!) Well, fortunately, there is another option. Certain sweeteners are more natural and less refined than the standard white table sugar crystals. One of those sweeteners is natural dried cane juice. The use of this substance (in moderation of course) has not been associated with any negative side effects or dangerous medical conditions. So you don’t have to deny your needs for something sweet and tasty. As long as you use it sparingly2, dried cane juice is a natural source of sweetness that can be a part of a healthy diet.
Panela undergoes even simpler processing than evaporated cane juice with the sugar cane being simply boiled to remove its water content and allowed to cool into “bricks” of sugar that come in various sizes. It’s about the purest, most natural, handcrafted, unrefined and unbleached sugar available made directly from the juice extracted from sugar cane. Panela has its traditional roots in Latin American countries such as Colombia and is generally much consumed in Latin America.3
If you can’t find them it’s because you need to find your way into a Latin supermarket, or you could purchase online. It can be used just like sugar for sweetening foods and beverages as well as in cooking. Since it is considered to be more wholesome, it is also used as a sweetener in a host of processed, natural foods. It may also be known by a variety of other names including dried cane juice, crystallized cane juice, milled cane sugar and direct consumption sugar. In Europe it is known as “unrefined sugar”.
Add just enough, but not too much water. In the case of the small discs I used, 1/2 C water was fine. You might want less water if you want a heavier syrup. Just stir it up until no crystals are left. Let it cool a bit and bottle. I reuse old maple or molasses bottles. Sometimes I’ll even make a molasses and panela mix for a nice sweet yet dark flavor profile. Never settle for store bought junk filler syrup again!
If you still think honey or agave4 is “better” than cane get yourself edumacated and read up on the fact that sugar is still sugar, always. So never go overboard and always use sugars in moderation. Yes, even with fruit/juice, you silly fructarians! Same goes for your fruit smoothies.
In the “old days” fruit was the dessert. They didn’t grind it up or juice the fiber out of it. Enough, just stop giving fruit a free pass. I use bananas to sweeten my cookies and non – dairy ice cream. They have sugar, obviously. Just ask my diabetic daughter. So ends my sugar rant. Don’t even get me started when I’m on a sugar high.