The piloncillo and its origin
Since the fifteenth century, cane cultivation was introduced to the Americas, and with it all the instruments to convert it into sweeteners. Do you want to know where it comes from? We tell you all the details of this delicacy.
To talk about piloncillo, we have to start with sugar cane; one of the oldest crops in the world. Its first records date back to 4,500 BC. in New Guinea, where cane was consumed by chewing it (yes, just like we Mexicans do when we get a piece of cane in our Christmas punch), and it spread to Borneo, Sumatra and India and later to other Asian countries.
He traveled through different continents during important historical moments; the Persians adopted the cultivation of it when they invaded India, and the Arabs in turn discovered the nectar of sugar cane when they conquered what was known years ago as Persia.
So strong was the taste of the Arabs for sugar cane that they took it to North Africa, another territory conquered by them, and although there are records of the use of a kind of mill for the first time in the year 100 BC in India and both Romans and Greeks began to give it medicinal uses when they discovered versions of this crystallized sweetener on their visits to India, it was not until the 7th century AD. that the Persians and Egyptians developed better methods for refining cane into sugar.
Not only was sugar used medicinally or as a spice, but the Arabs began to conceptualize sugar as a reserved delicacy for members of the royalty or for those who could afford this "luxury". It was prepared with ground almonds to create delicious Marzipans or as sculptures to decorate parties.
Years later, in the 11th century, Europeans discovered sugar when they conquered Jerusalem, and brought this addictive sweet to Europe for the first time, and it remained accessible only to the richest until the years 1300's.
His arrival in America
Did you know that conquest is a key part of their history? Not only did the Spaniards begin the production of sugar cane when they conquered the Canary Islands, using the labor force of the aborigines who populated the island and who became slaves after the military conquest, but Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to Haiti and the Dominican Republic during the conquest of America.
In the 14th century, the main producer of sugar was this island, while the Portuguese established cane sugar plantations in Brazilian territory, and the technology to produce sugar improved to the point that Brazil dominated the industry.
In the 18th century, the demand for sugar grew in the United States, which is why the greater need for a labor force brought with it the era of slavery in that country, causing the death of millions of native slaves Americans and Africans due to the arduous working conditions for sugar production.
With technological advances and mechanization in production processes, as well as the discovery of sugar beets, slavery came to an end.
From sugar to piloncillo
Although little is known about the piloncillo, we know that, always accompanying the production of sugar cane, it came from Malaga and Granada to the Canary Islands and from there it was brought with the cultivation of sugar cane to Mexico and other countries in Central and South America, and was used mainly by inhabitants of rural areas
This one has different names; in Spain it was named Pilón, and the name was changing according to the area; today in different areas of our country it is known as Chancaca, Panela, Panocha, and in South American countries it is known as Raspadura, Papelón, Empanizao, and it will surely have other variations –because we Latinos have creativity in the blood.
The piloncillo today
Currently, the largest producer of piloncillo in Mexico is San Luis Potosí, although the states of Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Nayarit, Jalisco, Hidalgo and Colima also have sugar cane plantations, and this has various uses in gastronomy.
In Mexico, we use it in countless desserts, from the traditional piloncillo piglets, crystallized fruits, punch, capirotada, pot coffee, fritters, champurrado, pumpkin sweets, papaya, sweet potato... Anyway , it's easy to recognize the taste of this chemical-free treat in any dish, and it's always a comforting taste.
Furthermore, we now know that it contains vitamin B1, B2, B6 and C, as well as minerals, and is an excellent alternative to sweeten our drinks and dishes since it is not as heavily processed as refined sugar, it does not affect our body like the latter.
Although of course it is advisable not to consume it in excess, it is still the healthiest natural sweetener that exists. Have you already used it in any preparation? Tell us on Facebook or Instagram!
A tip to know which piloncillo to buy: the sweeter and clearer, the higher the quality. Remember that you can buy the best piloncillo made in Mexico at Don Zabor, and you can find it at Walmart, Bodega Aurrera, Superama H-E-B, laComer, CityClub and Alsuper.