COCO's Journey Across Colombia | Sweet as Panela
As we drove North from Medellín and towards our final stop, Necoclí, we came across a small Panela Factory ran by a gentleman named Alfredo. This happened purely by chance, and I was excited to learn more about this topic as I have been thinking about including Panela (a type of unrefined whole cane sugar typically found in South America) as an ingredient in our chocolate for a while.
Alfredo has worked on this site for over forty years, and was able to share his experience with me. He explained to me the five steps to producing Panela.
Step 1. Put fresh cut sugar cane is through a press, and extract as much juice as possible.
Step 2. Run the extracted sugar cane juice from the press into a deep container over a fire fuelled by the dried husks of pressed cane.
Step 3. Stir and transfer the boiling cane juice while it thickens.
Step 4. Pour the thickened sugar cane juice into wooden moulds and let it set and cool.
Step 5. After the moulds have set, remove the Panela discs from the wooden mould.
I learnt that Colombia is the main producer of Panela, worldwide - producing up to 1.4 million tons per year. Panela production, similarly to cacao farming, is a very important economic resource in Colombia - a country that has the world's highest index of Panela consumption per capita. The Panela industry is an essential source of employment, bounding over 350,000 people working in nearly 20,000 Trapiches (Panela farms).
We got back into the car and continued driving north, towards Necoclí. As we went through the beautiful countryside, I thought about the similarities between cacao farming and Panela production; how both are so important for the Colombian economy, and how the farming becomes a trade that is passed on from one generation to the next, securing employment to entire families. It seems like a natural progression for us at COCO to become involved, and purchase Panela as a valuable ingredient to our single origin chocolate...