sugar sourced at origin for chocolate

Gathering and cutting sugarcane in Ecuador

Again, the old adage, what grows together goes together. High up in another part of the Andes we visited a sugarcane plantation where they make their organically grown sugar into panela, unrefined sugar that retains more of its nutritional value and tastes less sweet with a deeper, more complex flavor.

cutting sugarcane in Ecuador
a dog accompanies the workers in the sugarcane fields to scare away snakes

Like any agricultural product, growing and harvesting sugarcane is hard work. The care and the clean environment that the canes grow in comes out in the flavor of the sugar, adding just the right amount of sweetness and distinctive aromas to locally grown chocolate.

palm trees and sugarcane fields in the ecuadorian andes bordering the amazon
the buildings where they make panela from sugarcane

The canes are harvested with machetes and juiced the same day.

juicing the sugarcane to make panela in ecuador

A native plant that has a gelatinous sap, much like aloe, is added to the juice to act as a natural bioremediator that filters out contaminants and is removed before cooking begins.

a native plant that acts as a natural water filter used during panela-making

A fire-powered vat stoked with the cane husks cooks down the liquid sugar, so nothing is wasted. The fire is watched carefully to keep the temperature steady for cooking the cane juice.

stoking the fire with sugarcane bark, a by-product of sugar making, to make panela
making panela, a raw sugar from organic sugarcane in Ecuador

The process is a lot like boiling sap to make maple sugar, but much quicker. The resulting brown sugar crystals have a rich flavor that compliments chocolate beautifully.

sugarcane fields in the ecuadorian andes