A Trip to the Molienda – see how Panela is made   Leave a comment

We stopped in at the Molienda on a  trip to San Vicente one day.   I was working at Habitat, and driving with Don Nico.  We arrived before the regional office was ready, so we had a few moments to kill and this was right on the road there.  Don Nico was a fantastic guide, explaining how everything works, because when he was a boy, his family had a small Molienda of their own.

It all starts with actual sugar cane, about the thickness of a large broomstick, harvested locally. The cane branches are fed into a machine that squeezes out their juice.

(Click to Enlarge) – Check out the machinery. (Click to Enlarge) –  This is a tough job.  This guy must be hot with all that steam coming up. (Click to enlarge) – cane juice flowin’


In Agua Caliente, in Chalatenango, we often see a vendor with a small hand-crank squeezer sell cane juice in bags as a “fresco” drink.

After the cane juice is squeezed out, it flows into one or more large vats – see the pipe above where it comes right out of the can press.  Then it is boiled down in the vats, for several hours, to evaporate:

(Click to Enlarge) Here is the skimmer. (Click to Enlarge) Another steamy job.

From the start, Don Nico was telling me how we were going to “chupar la espuma,”
or drink the foam from the cane juice.   He was very enthusiastic about this, and
I definitely had to partake in the drinking. 

I didn’t care for the espuma as much as he does, but I never let on.

Here is Don Nico, chupando la espuma.  He must have loved this when he was a little kid, just look at him here with his little kid face, drinking the foam.

As usual in El Salvador, almost nothing is wasted.

After squeezing out the juice, the remaining parts of the cane have multiple uses.   The cane is given to cows to eat, like hay, and guess what fuels the fire to boil the vats of cane juice?    The post-squeezed sugar cane.

(Click to enlarge)
Here, gathered in bundles for the fire
Fuel for the fire – from the actual cane sticks. (Click to enlarge)
The cane is spread out to dry


Once the cane juice is thick enough, it is poured into molds, and left to dry:


Here is a nice group of ladies wrapping the panela in corn husks, ready to be sold:

Finished product!  Panela wrapped in corn husks. Another product from the Molienda is Batido. My mother in law loves it.  Much softer than panela, it’s eaten as a candy/dessert.


Making panela at the Moliendas is a colonial tradition that nearly died off in El Salvador after the invention of granulated sugar in the mid 20th century.   But panela and other products of the Molienda are very distinct and more healthy than processed sugar, so the tradition lives on today.  In fact, they have even formed associations, such as ACOPANELA (la Asociación de Productores de Panela), established by panela producers in San Vicente.

Here are a couple of articles, in Spanish, about the tradition of producing panela in El Salvador:       Moliendas: a sweet tradition of Verapaz    –    La Molienda – San Vicente

Posted September 20, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

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