“The caramel flavors in the piloncillo balance the acidity of our chocolates,” said Mónica Lozano, a founding partner of La Rifa, which gets its piloncillo from sustainable sugar-cane farms in the eastern part of Mexico.

You can still taste the grassy honeysuckle and anise flavors of the sugar cane in the piloncillo because it’s made by hand and without industrial processing, she said, adding that they prefer it to regular sugar.

Known as chancaca in Chile, Bolivia and Peru, and panela in Guatemala and Colombia, piloncillo (in Mexico) is made by crushing and extracting the juice from sugar cane. (A similar product, jaggery, is also found in South Asia, Central America, Brazil and Africa.) The crushed cane and fibers are dried and fuel the fire used to boil the juice, evaporate the water and caramelize the sugars. The hot syrup, similar to molasses, is poured into wooden cone-shaped molds, cooled until hard, then sold in stores and markets.

It’s used in desserts like puerquitos, soft, pig-shaped cookies that are popular in Mexico and not unlike gingerbread. Capirotada, a fruit-filled bread pudding eaten during Lent and Easter, and café de olla, a spiced coffee, are both sweetened with piloncillo. It also adds depth and complexity to savory dishes, like moles and guisos (stews), giving them smoky, coffee and rummy flavors.

The easiest way to use piloncillo is to make a simple syrup and flavor it with citrus zest, warming spices or even chiles to then pour over buñelos, pancakes or roasted sweet potatoes. You can also mix it into coffee or hot chocolate, and use it in recipes that call for molasses, like barbecue sauces, cakes and pies.

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