Raw sugar or muscovado sugar is the crystallized product that is obtained by evaporation of the juice produced in the milling of the sugar cane and that is consumed without having been subjected to refining processes, as is the case of other types of industrially produced sugar .
It consists essentially of sucrose, whose loose crystals are covered by a film of its original honey, hence its dark color. This color and the form of prismatic buns in which it forms after the crystallization of the juice, have given it characteristic names in the different areas where, traditionally, it is produced and consumed. In Colombia it is called ‘panela’, in Mexico it is known as ‘piloncillo’; ‘Paperboard’ in Guatemala and other countries of
Central America, and as ‘chancaca’ in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. FAO defines it as non-centrifuged sugar.
For centuries the panela has been manufactured in an artisanal way without giving greater value to the product and without having been subject to significant technological changes in its production process. The traditional productive unit of panela is known as trapiche.
Colombia is the second largest producer after India, with a volume that represented 12.1 percent of world production in 2001. Colombia ranks first in terms of per capita consumption, with 34.2 kg of panela per capita per year, a figure that far exceeds the world average of 2 kg per inhabitant and that of the world’s largest producer, India (Martínez and Acevedo, 2004). The panela is marketed in different presentations, 500 and 125 grams, or pulverized for traditional consumption in the form of “panela water”. In the last fifteen years it has been used in the elaboration of other products of greater added value such as ‘choconelas’ (chocolate and panela), ‘lactonelas’ (powdered milk and panela), custard (cornstarch and panela), chocolates, flavored cubes, table sauces for the preparation of meats, bleached (candy), confectionery, coconut panels, etc.
The sugarcane cane participates with 10.6 percent of the area for permanent crops and 6.3 percent of the total area cultivated in Colombia, which places it in fifth place among the country’s crops, only surpassed by the Coffee, corn, rice and banana. It is a product eminently produced in the peasant economy, distributed throughout most of the country throughout the year. It is estimated that it constitutes the basic economy of 236 municipalities in twelve departments. In addition, it generates more than 25 million wages annually and about 350,000 people are linked to this activity, which is done by the second generation of rural employment after coffee (Martínez and Acevedo, 2004).
It has also been estimated that there are about 70,000 agricultural units that grow cane for paneling production and approximately 15,000 sugar mills throughout the country.