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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