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What is Panela?

Sunny Fresco


Here at SunnyFresco, we made our mission to bring Organic Healthy, refreshing and tasty ingredients, what we call Real food. Organic ingredients are very different when compared with conventional ingredients. We are not talking about physical appearance, because is very difficult to differentiate an Organic apple from a conventional(use of Herbicides and pesticides) apple just by looking at them, but the difference in taste, nutritional value, and the effects on the environment are very easy to pinpoint and discuss.

One of the top ingredients we use here at SunnyFresco is Panela(Dehydrated Sugarcane Juice), the main ingredient of our best selling product Guandolo Soda Pop.



If you follow our posts in this blog and Social media, you already know we are from Colombia, South America and have been living in Queens, New York for the past 10 years. Coming from Colombia means you know what Panela is. Period. If you ask a Colombian about Panela and they say, I don't know what it is, be sure he is lying or is not Colombian. Panela is our main go to, sweetener, we mix it with water and lime to make the most refreshing drink, we drink it hot when we have a cold or flu and is used in many recipes in our Colombian gastronomy. So today we want to share more information about this great and versatile ingredient that we hope takes over the USA as the main sweetener for the reasons you will learn below. 


Panela is pure Dehydrated sugarcane juice. Given the high sugar content of cane juice it is therefore essentially non-refined cane sugar, retaining the many additional constituents of cane juice, principally minerals, but also vitamins and other trace substances, many still unknown. Depending on its manufacturing process it is either presented in the solid or granulated form.

Panela is a traditional food produced and consumed in practically all tropical and subtropical regions since the introduction of sugar cane growing. It is classified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as non-centrifugal sugar (NCS) and has many different names worldwide.

The chemical composition of Panela depends on the cane variety used, the soils on which it was grown,(ours is Organic), the fertilization applied and on certain process characteristics. The range of the contents of its most important constituents, compiled from several studies, is presented in the following table.



Table 1
General composition of Panela
Content Value range
Carbohydrate, % 83 – 95
Sucrose 72 – 14
Reducing sugar 3 – 14
Minerals, % 0.6 – 3
Calcium 0.04 - 0.36
Chloride 0.2 – 0.34
Phosphorus 0.03 – 0.22
Potassium 0.1 – 0.16
Sodium 0.006 – 0.03
Iron 0.0025 – 0.020
Zink 0.002 – 0.0025
Magnesium 0.008 – 0.136
Cooper 0.007 – 0.010
Cobalt, nickel and molybdenum 0.001 – 0.008
Protein % 0.35 – 0.40
Nonprotein nitrogen (mg/100 g) 19.6 – 42.9
Protein nitrogen (mg/100 g) 13.7 – 17.6
Vitamins mg/100 g
Thiamin 0.018 – 0.030
Riboflavin 0.042 – 0.07
Nicotinic acid 3.92 – 4.50
Vitamin C 5.2 – 30
Carotene, ug/100g 155 – 168
Phenolics, mg/100 g 280 – 320
Fat, wax, pectin and organic acids, % 0.10 – 0.60
Moisture, %

3.9 – 7.2



The basic manufacture process of Panela involves juice extraction, physical elimination of impurities and clarification of the juice, evaporation of the water content of the juice, crystallization, eventually drying and packaging. The cane juice is generally extracted by mechanical processes and allowed to settle so to eliminate solid impurities. Clarification is carried out by adding vegetable matter to coagulate the particulates, which come to the surface during boiling and are skimmed off, as well as by adding lime to improve crystallization.




Nutritional and Health advantages of Panela


Scientific research has been confirming significant positive health effects of NCS and its precursor products. A recent paper (2012) has identified 46 academic publications which report some health effects. The highest frequency is immunological effects (26%), followed by anti-toxicity and cytoprotective effects (22%), anticariogenic effects (15%) and diabetes and hypertension effects (11%) (Health Effects of Non-Centrifugal Sugar (NCS): A Review. Walter R. Jaffe.Sugar Tech DOI 10.1007/s12355-012-0145-1).

Although yet no proof of the causes of these broad effects exists, several investigations point towards its antioxidant properties as a strong possibility.

Table 2 presents the antioxidant activity of concentrated cane juice, which can be considered basically equivalent with Panela, compared with other high antioxidant sources, expressed in ORAC (Oxygen Radical Adsorbance Capacity), a quantitative method that increasingly has become a standard, although not unique, method for measuring it.


Table 2
Antioxidant capacity (ORAC) of selected foods
Food “Whole ORAC
(umoleTE x 100 gr)”
Spices, basil, dried 67,553 USDA, 2007
Spices, cinnamon, ground 267,536 USDA, 2007
Spices, oregano, dried 200,129 USDA, 2007
Chocolate, dutch powder 40,200 USDA, 2007
Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened 80,933 USDA, 2007
Conc. sugar cane raw juice (Panela) 26,400 Saska and Chou, 2002
Nuts, walnut, english 13,541 USDA, 2007
Nuts, almonds 4,454 USDA, 2007
Raspberries, raw 4,882 USDA, 2007
Blackberries, raw 5,347 USDA, 2007
Blueberries, raw 6,552 USDA, 2007



The first paper found mentioning a health effect of NCS (Non-Centrifugal Sugar) is a South African of 1937 reporting the protective effect of raw sugar on the decalcification of teeth (Osborn et al. 1937a), followed by a report on the effect of Panela consumption on anemia (Jaffe and Ochoa 1949). John Yudkin, an eminent British nutritionist, studying the difference between refined and unrefined ingredients of the diet, discovered in 1951 that unrefined muscovado promotes the survival of new-born rats and postulated the existence in it of a ‘‘reproductive factor R’’ required for the proper viability of rat pups (Wiesner and Yudkin 1951). These findings were reconfirmed by Yudkin 25 year latter (Eisa and Yudkin 1985), when trying to replicate the work of two Soviet scientists who reported extensive positive health effects, such as promotion of growth, etc., of unrefined sugar on rats (Brekhman and Nesterenko 1983). He cautiously concluded that ‘‘in certain circumstances, unrefined muscovado sugar might contribute to the nutritional value of a human diet’’ (Eisa and Yudkin 1985). The systematic and sustained research on the health effects of NCS started in Japan in the 1980s, where several groups from companies, universities and government institutions discovered various physiological effects of kokuto, the typical NCS from Okinawa, joined more recently by groups in other countries.

An early study in 1949 with anemic rats indicated that Iron in Panela is readily absorbed, producing high hemoglobin levels in 18 days (Jaffe and Ochoa 1949). Two recent studies support these findings in humans. One in Ecuador found that iron adsorption from wheat noodle soup was significantly higher consumed with lemonade sweetened with Panela (11%), compared with the same meal without lemonade, in 13 women and measured by a double isotopic method (Olivares et al. 2007). A statistical significant increase in hemoglobin in pre-school children was demonstrated in a 12 weeks randomized, controlled double blind trial, with the consumption of a beverage of Panela with ascorbic acid, in Brazil (Arcanjo et al. 2009). These are still few evidences for this potentially very important health effect of NCS. If further studies confirm the high bioavailability of the iron in NCS by humans it would suggest new strategies to fight anemia in many countries. Current strategies focus on enhancement of diets and dietary patterns as well as on food fortification with iron and direct supplementation of iron intake (WHO 2001), and more recently on the so called biofortification, which seeks to increase the iron content in staple crops by genetic means or by fertilization (Sautter and Gruissem 2010; Carmak 2010).

The development of mass-consumption products based on NCS, a soda beverage for example, would be a relatively cheap and market-attuned strategy, which could be industrially and commercially attractive.






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