Piloncillo Syrup, Healthier Sugar!
Piloncillo is one of my greatest kitchen discoveries, well actually it was my friends Maxim and Conrad who introduced me to it, Conrad had made a most wonderful Banana and Date “Ice Cream” and served it with Piloncillo Syrup.. that was it, I was hooked! I made it at home the very next day and since then I have stopped buying any other kind of sugar altogether apart from honey.
So what is piloncillo anyway? It is unrefined cane sugar, meaning this is the healthiest and most natural form of sugar, in fact this stuff is actually good for you! Because it has not been through all the refining processes like other sugar it still contains many trace vitamins and nutrients, the main ones being mineral salts, calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B1, B6, and D, who thought sugar could be so healthy!
Sugar cane, the sugar mills and piloncillo came to the Americas with the Spanish in the 1500’s. In Central and South America it is known as panela, rapadura, chancaca and panocha amongst other names. You also find it in Asian countries such as in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, there its called Jaggery or Gur. It is used mainly in drinks and desserts, however I use it with everything! In my coffee, on my fruit salad, in stir-fries and curries, for marinating meat, over ice-cream, in ice tea or coctktails, the list goes on! It is so delicious and you can add flavours like vanilla, ginger, cinnamon etc.
In the markets and abbarotes (grocery stores) here in Mexico it is sold in solid cones of various sizes and colours, from shades of dark, almost black-brown to golden-yellow. The difference between them is the darker one contains more molasses which gives it its darker colour and stronger flavour. It tastes a bit like slightly burnt caramel, it has a faint smoky taste, almost like black treacle, in fact in Wikipedia if you look up piloncillo in Spanish then put it into English it takes you to the page for molasses. The lighter colour one for me is more like a plain sweetness, without the extra flavour, I prefer the dark one, although for certain recipes maybe the lighter one could be better although I think its more about personal taste.
The cones are extremely hard and difficult to break. It dissolves quite quickly in hot liquids so you can use a grater and grate it as you need it. I prefer to have the syrup ready, that way you can add it direct to cold drinks and it mixes perfectly or use as an ice cream topping.
I usually buy half a kilo or a kilo at a time and make the whole lot up and store it in glass bottles. I find that it is not as sweet as refined sugars in that I use double the amount that I used to use of sugar, for example in my coffee I used to put 2 teaspoons of sugar, with this syrup I use 2 dessert spoons.
I expect in the States if you live in an area where there is a Hispanic community you will find piloncillo or panela there. In the UK I reckon the best bet would be in the Asian stores and markets, ask for jaggery.
It’s very simple to make, use one part sugar to one part water and make sure you have a sterilized bottle or bottles for the amount you are making, with lids, ready to go!
To make one litre of Piloncillo Syrup you will need:
1 kilo of piloncillo
1 litre of boiling water
A pan big enough to boil it in
1 litre or 2 x 500ml Sterilized glass bottle(s)
Bring the water to a boil in the pan, add the piloncillo, stir and wait for it all to dissolve.
Once all the piloncillo has dissolved turn the heat down so it’s just bubbling lightly, you don’t want to burn it as it will give it a bitter taste. Stir occasionally.
Let it simmer for about 15 minutes to thicken it up a little. You can make a test by putting a spoon in the syrup, if when you take it out the spoon stays coated with the syrup it is ready. Now is the moment to add a spoonful of vanilla essence if you wish.
Using the funnel fill your sterilized bottle(s)* with the syrup, put the lids on and that’s it!! You’re done!
*To be honest I just clean them with soapy water and a bottle brush, rinse them, then fill them with boiling water to sterilize them. I figure that this is sugar and sugar is a preservative, saying that, i did have mold start to grow on one batch once as maybe i had not allowed it to reduce enough, or perhaps the bottle had condensation in it, i am not sure, i just scraped it off and used the rest, it was fine.
If you have any recipe suggestions for piloncillo or if you make it with other flavours, please feel free to share and or leave a comment.