Piloncillo is sugar in its most natural and pure state -less processed and closer to the sugarcane plant. Piloncillo is a 100% Mexican sweetener that can be used to make sauces or cakes, like how you would use syrup or honey.
WHERE DOES PILONCILLO COME FROM?
Piloncillo began to be produced in Mexico at the start of the colonial era when the Spanish taught us to grow sugarcane. The arrival of this new crop also brought new techniques and tools for processing it. The origin of the name comes from the Nahuatl word chianaca, which means brown sugar. Other names it’s known by are panocha or panela. And there are two types: dark piloncillo, or light or white piloncillo.
HOW IS PILONCILLO MADE?
- The first step is to crush the sugarcane to extract its juice. The leftover chaff is used as kindling to light the oven.
- Once the oven is lit, the juice is heated until it reaches a boil.
- From there, it goes into a mixer where it does not stop being stirred until it reaches the consistency of a thick dulce de leche.
- When it reaches the perfect consistency, it is poured into cone-shaped wooden molds and left to cool. Once it’s ready, it’s removed from the molds and packed to be sold.
HOW DOES PILONCILLO TASTE?
The flavor is more complex than that of brown sugar – it’s delicious, a little smoky, and has notes of coffee, caramel, and even rum. For me, it’s a flavor that transports me to Mexico, to the village bakeries and the weekend breakfasts of my childhood. In my house, we made pancakes for breakfast on Sundays, and instead of maple syrup, we served them with piloncillo syrup.
HOW DO YOU USE PILONCILLO?
- Grated. Piloncillo is very hard, so in order to use it, you have to grate it with a box grater designed for vegetables, or cut it with a very sharp knife.
- As syrup. You can put it in a pan over low heat with a little bit of water until it once again becomes a syrup. You can then add cinnamon or other spices to the syrup. The consistency will be a little more liquidy than other types of honeys or syrups.
- If you are making a recipe that calls for piloncillo and you can’t find it, then substitute it with brown sugar. The flavor won’t be quite the same, but it will definitely still turn out fine.
RECIPES WHERE YOU COULD USE THIS NATURAL SWEETENER
- Vegan hotcakes, in place of honey
- Oatmeal with caramelized bananas, in place of brown sugar
- You can use it to sweeten coffee – it will taste similar to cafecito de olla.
- You can use it to make buñuelos, atole, capirotada, and many other authentic Mexican desserts.
- You can also use it to make salsas with dry chiles, savory dishes, or stews.
HOW DO YOU STORE IT?
Keep it in a dark place, like in a cupboard in a tightly closed container. I like to store it in glass jars. I usually have two jars – one with grated piloncillo, and one with whole pieces. If you make piloncillo syrup, then it’s best to keep that in the refrigerator.
WHERE TO BUY IT
You can find piloncillo in some markets, in supermarkets in the Latin food aisles, or on Amazon.