In the USA and in Europe, quality coffee grown in Colombia is preferred by many because of its flavor, aroma, and body. We don’t hear much about the sugar and chocolate but these commodities are also major exports for Colombian farmers.
Many of us are very familiar with refined white sugar and also with what we call “raw sugar”. Thinking raw cane sugar is about as good as it gets yet dreading sugar highs and the eventual letdown, sometimes called “sugar blues”, we avoided it. In Salento, we were introduced to the sugar, or panela, that the local residents seem to prefer. Often translated as “brown sugar,” a misnomer, panela is naturally damp and not white sugar blended with molasses, or brown sugar in the USA.
Real raw sugar. I usually turn up my nose at sugar but was tempted to try the moist, dark-brown sugar pushed my way in Salento. What the heck, travel is for exploring, right? It tasted delicious and … I experienced no sugar high or low. Perhaps because panela is a complete, unrefined sugar, my body was able to process it. Or perhaps it is psychological: it did not look like sugar, therefore I did not expect a sugar high and headache.
We enjoyed panela throughout Colombia, particularly where the coffee provided had a bitter taste, unlike that in Salento, San Agustin, or Popayan. Once we got to Ecuador, it became hard to find. In Otavalo, a Colombian woman at the hostel had it, purchased in Colombia. From then on, we had no success in finding it, although something was probably available, perhaps with a different name.
Colombian chocolate. Ildi and Sven, from Germany, shared with us a chunk of chocolate from a big bar they had bought at a grocery store in the plaza in Salento. Ambrosia! Dark, dark chocolate, flavored with cinnamon and cloves. It seemed to have less butterfat than European chocolate, but it won our hearts with its intense depth of flavor plus the two spices. We got adventuresome and made hot chocolate with it and that was a treat. Unflavored chocolate bars were also available and excellent as well, as we passed them around the hostel.
Because we had a few days of long travel in front of us, we bought a bar (500 grams) for those days and never found that brand and flavor of chocolate again! And we did look because it was so especially unusual to us and packed a punch in flavor and aroma.
We did get to sample truffles and other kinds of fancy chocolates but we were sad not to find these bars again. Keep an eye out when traveling in Colombia as you may find the mystery bar with the flavors cinamomo y clavos. Bet you will be glad you did.
Sad to read that Colombia sugar production is decreasing as more and more sugar cane is being diverted for the production of ethanol.