Aren’t we always looking for sweets sans the calories? Often times we are torn between “natural” sugar sources that have calories and artificial sweeteners that don’t have calories but definitely have some unnatural ingredients. Well guess what, here is a way that you don’t have to make that tough choice: Piloncillo! AKA Panela of Panocha. This is a sugar originating from Mexico that is a natural form of pure cane sugar. That’s right- no additives, no refinement, no coloring! It is made by crushing sugar canes, collecting the juice that falls, boiling it, and then shaping it (mainly into different size cones). And to make this sweeter: it contains less calories than any other sugar or natural sweetener (i.e. honey, molasses, maple syrup, etc.)! Only 15-20 calories per tablespoon, to be exact (as compared to other sugars and natural sweeteners that have between 30-60 calories per tablespoon)!
Why Have You Done a Good Thing?
Our body wants sweets- what’s a girl to do? Eat them, of course! But by consuming natural sugar sources you are treating your body right by not subjecting it to too many ingredients that are unrecognizable. Although no cause or effect has been proven, research does show a correlation, in that people who consume lots of artificial sweeteners (via diet sodas, diet foods, etc.) tend to be heavier and at a greater risk for obesity that people who consume less artificial sweeteners. Some research also suggests (but has definitely not proven) that when we consume these artificial sweeteners, our body does a “fake-out” leaving us craving the real thing even more. Plus, some recent (preliminary) research suggests that their just may an association between artificial sweeteners and stroke- oh no!
So, by substituting piloncillo sugar for table sugar, brown sugar (which can often just be table sugar + molasses for coloring- how rude!) or artificial sweeteners, you can give your body real food without adding a ton of extra calories. And just what happens to extra calories from sugar once we ingest them? I hate to be the barrier of bad news- but they take a little trip to our liver, and then take a one-way flight to our fat cells- where they stay until we work them off!
What exactly do I do with this odd cone-shaped sugar?
Well, I have to say that it is very hard to grind yourself (speaking from experience!)So…most places sell it ground, as well- which I would recommend. From there, the possibilities are endless. You can use it in your coffee or tea, in your cereal, in your bakes goods, in cooking, and even to sweeten a salad dressing. Really- just about anywhere you would use table sugar or artificial sweeteners!
Sad to see the pumpkins go? Try this recipe to make your very own (very Mexican) sweet pumpkin dessert. Here it is, complements of About.com
Look for Piloncillo in gourmet food stores, specialty markets, and international supermarkets. Now that you know about this sweet hidden gem, go seek out and sub it out in your favorite foods!
--Samantha Jacobs, MS RD CDN