WHAT IS PILONCILLO?

Piloncillo is sugar in its most natural, pure, stateless processed substance 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.

piloncillo cones
Picture of a piloncillo cone. *Informacion from MexicoDesconocido.com

how do you say piloncillo in English?

I don’t think there is an exact translation of how to say piloncillo in English. That is why I named my blog in English BrownSugar&Vanilla, because I couldn’t find the exact translation.

Some people called it Mexican brown sugar or Mexican molasses.

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 sugar cane. 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 sugar cane to extract its juice. The leftover chaff is used as kindling to light the oven.
  • Once the oven is lit, the cane juice is heated until it reaches a boil.
  • From there, it goes into a mixer, where it does not stop stirring 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 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. 

piloncillo cones in a plate

HOW to USE PILONCILLO

  • Grated. Piloncillo is very hard, so to use it, you have to grate it with a box grater designed for vegetables or cut it with a sharp knife.
  • As syrup. You can put it in a pan over low heat with a little water until it becomes syrup. You can then add cinnamon or other spices to the syrup. The consistency will be slightly more liquid than other honey or syrups.
  • If you make a recipe that calls for piloncillo and can’t find it, then substitute it with brown sugar. The flavor won’t be quite the same, but it will still turn out fine.

RECIPES with piloncillo

  • 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 make salsas with dry chiles, savory dishes, or stews.

HOW DO YOU STORE IT?

Keep it in the dark, 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, it’s best to keep it in the refrigerator.

WHERE TO BUY IT

You can find piloncillo in some markets, supermarkets in the Latin food aisles, or on Amazon.

Is brown sugar the same as piloncillo?

No, it is not the same.

BREAKFAST

VEGGIES

MAINS

SALADS