Sierra Nevada Panela

Ark of taste
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The Sierra Nevada Panela produced in the cultivations of Altos de San Jorge comes from a sugar cane called criolla in Spanish. This cane has a robust root that allows the plant to remain erect, while the leaves are straight and point upward. The cane’s bark is soft and its syrup production can reach up to 60%.   To produce Sierra Nevada Panela the sugar cane must be ground when it is perfectly ripe. After grinding, the syrup drains into a container and is then placed into cooking pots. When the syrup boils, agglutinates like tomato juice or other local plants are added. The end result of this process is a soft paste that has a nice consistency which is mealy and delicious. To prepare panela cane juice, the paste can be melted in water, but it is also eaten in slices either with cheese or coconut.   Sugar cane has always been used as a source of food in Guajira and it was cultivated by the people who live on the lateral slopes of Mount Sierra. Indigenous peoples also grew sugar cane, which they used to trade for other food or for rum. The Koguis people, who lived in Palomino in the past, knew this product as hiula. The cane seeds that are used today to make panela are considered to be native, as the Wayúu community, who lived on the slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, has had them since time immemorial. It is presumed that these seeds came to the community thanks to the constant exchange of products that took place among the different ethnic tribes that used to live in this region.     This product has a strong cultural link to the territory: it has traditionally been used in various dishes, mainly for the famous arepuelas (fried arapas with anise) in which panela honey is mixed with anise flour. Sierra Nevada Panela was traditionally produced on a large scale in the Cabecera Municipal (or main urban center) zone of Dibulla. It is still available on the market, but the production is at risk because the producers are actively looking for sugar cane that is more resistant to harmful insects and climate change, and that gives a higher yield. Another critical factor is the lack of support from the government and the health laws that are too restrictive. 

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La Guajira