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Panela in the mornings

Colombia is the world’s No. 2 producer of panela — a sweetener that tastes like a cross between molasses and brown sugar.

A Colombian peasant arranges panela blocks in Villeta, Colombia, Feb. 17, 2006. Colombian peasants extract sugar cane juice by hand, put it in boilers to purify and thicken it, and then place it in molds to make blocks called panela. (Daniel Munoz/Reuters)

TOBIA, Colombia — Many families in Colombia start their day not with coffee, Colombia's signature crop, but with agua de panela. The key ingredient in the hot beverage is panela, a sweetener made by cooking the juice from sugar cane into a brown, sticky goo which is then molded into blocks. Unrefined and cheaper than sugar, panela tastes like a cross between molasses and brown sugar.

Though Colombia stands as the world’s No. 2 producer of panela after India, the industry remains rustic. Peasant farmers with just a few acres of sugar cane can build small mills and turn out tons of panela. About 300,000 Colombian families earn a living producing panela, making it the second leading source of jobs in the countryside after coffee.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/colombia/090701/panela-do-not-publish-without-video