Colombian Food: The Aguapanela: Energy Drink
The aguapanela is one of the quintessential paisa beverages. It has been strongly rooted in our culture to the point that it has withstood the sweeping boom of the soft drinks, powdered soft drinks and energy drinks. Not only it has survived the Colombian economic opening, but it has competed against new products, and it has also been adapted to modern times and it is emerging as a good choice among the young people.
I belong to a paisa generation that were raised based on aguapanela: when waking up in the morning, the greeting was accompanied by a large cup of this hot beverage. You knew when breakfast was about to be served, because you could feel that sweet smell of panela, which minutes earlier had been a round block of hardened molasses, and now, after being immersed in boiling water, was transformed into that delicious breakfast drink. Sometimes the “Aguadulce”, as it is called, is used as the basis in the preparation of chocolate, coffee, and a number of options that I’ll mention later.
The aguapanela is a beverage of domestic preparation, which is made from sugarcane panela. Since the Panela is handmade and, unlike sugar, it doesn’t have chemical additives from any refining process, it keeps all mineral salts, amino acids and vitamins from the sugarcane. The panela is considered a pure sweetener because it is made from the evaporation of sugarcane juice at high temperatures.
Properties: the aguapanela is considered an energy drink and it is used as a supplement in sports and physical activities that enhances sugar deposits in the body, providing more resistance, delays the feeling of fatigue, helps keeping the body active, helps to eliminate toxins and stimulates the immune system. Also some medicinal properties like fighting diseases like the common cold or flu, are attributed to the aguapanela.
A way to prepare aguapanela: panela is an economic product in Colombia, its price is affordable and you can get it at any large or small grocery store. Panelas are made in round or square blocks, usually weighting 500 grams each, but they can be found in other presentations as well, like in powder. Once achieved, you only have to let on fire 250 grams in a pint of water, until the panela dilutes completely. That’s it!, now you have something delicious to drink. But you can also do many other preparations using aguapanela depending on the weather or your needs. Here I mention some:
Guandolo: it is cold aguapanela mixed with some juice of lemon, tangerine, bitter orange or any citrus fruit. It is used as a refreshing drink for hot days or as a perfect companion for foods.
Canelazo: it’s very hot aguapanela combined with brandy, cinnamon and lemon juice. It’s used to raise body temperature in cold weathers, when it’s extremely enjoyable to drink it at night. The cups in which we serve canelazo can be prepared by rimming it with lemon juice and then impregnating it with sugar.
Teas and Coffee with aguapanela: the idea is to use the hot drink and place in it basil, lemon balm, cinnamon, peppermint, lemon or any kind of herbs. In these preparations the panela replaces the addition of sugar, so that teas are much healthier and can even enhance all their benefits. I prepare my own tinto (black coffee) with aguapanela, since the other sweeteners give an artificial flavor, like a chemical taste, while the panela enhances the natural flavor of coffee, and it is much more enjoyable when cold coffee is served as a quencher.
Travellers in Colombia can find road restaurants that offer hot aguapanela with dipped cheese. The sweet taste of the panela combined with cheese, and the texture of it melting into the beverage, is an irresistible mix, especially when it comes to cold days.
In my particular case, I’ll keep encouraging the tradition of always having a pot of aguadepanela on the stove or a full jar in the refrigerator. The aguapanela always rescues me from trouble when it comes to unexpected guests, and being no friend of sodas or artificial mixtures, this drink has allowed me to create some innovative, healthy and affordable preparations for my visitors. I know that once you begin including it in your foods, you’ll enjoy crafting your own recipes of energy drinks, naturally and easily.