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Piloncillo is raw, pure sugar cane. It is unprocessed, brown in color, and cone-shaped. It is used in many Mexican recipes as a sweetener or as a spice.
Some people like to say it tastes like molasses. Although, there is NO molasses in it. No additives either.
Just sweet and yummy sugar cane.
There are different types of piloncillo. Light (or blanco) and dark (or oscura). Both are cone shaped. The light version has a milder molasses taste than the dark version.
The dark version is rich and has almost a burned caramel taste, and that is what is most commonly found in the US.
How it’s made
Piloncillo is made by boiling cane sugar juice. It is then poured into cone-shaped molds where it hardens and cools. That’s how it gets in cone shape.
How to Store It
We are talking about sugar here. Sugar can attract ants and other unwanted bugs.
Store it in an airtight, vacuum-sealed package for up to a year. Choose a dry area that is cool and dark.
If you only use some of it, store the rest in a plastic bag that is sealable. Remove as much air as possible before sealing.
These days, it is very easily found online or at the store.
However, if you still can’t find and absolutely need it for a recipe, here is how to substitute it.
You can substitute 1 cup of dark brown sugar + 1 tablespoon molasses for 1 8-ounce cone.
It’s not brown sugar.
Piloncillo may have similar taste and look like brown sugar. Some people even call it “Mexican brown sugar,” but they are NOT the same.
Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses in it. Piloncillo is raw cane sugar.
Easy to confuse, for sure! Especially since the two are changeable in many, many recipes.
The name game
In other Latin American countries, piloncillo is called panela or panocha.
Please note: If you ask for panela in a Mexican grocery store, they will show you to the cheese section.
Panela in Mexico is a soft cheese used in many Mexican recipes like Panela en Salsa.
How to Use It
It can also be used for savory dishes like Piloncillo Chipotle Ham.
Many Mexican cooks will leave the cone as is when making a sauce. If you are only using some of the cone, grate it with a grater. Or, chop it up into pieces using a knife.
If the cone is too hard and you want to chop it, place it in the microwave at 10-second intervals until it is soft. Be careful when handling, though. Hot sugar can burn.
Piloncillo is used as a sweetener for desserts, and because of rich, deep flavor, it can be used as a spice. Try it on coffee instead of sugar or on oatmeal. It’s a sweet treat you can’t beat!