Rapadura sugar is a type of minimally processed sugar that goes by many names. The term minimally processed means (among other things) that it has not been centrifuged to remove its natural molasses. It also means that the sugarcane juice used to make it has been boiled at a relatively low heat. Rapadura sugar is called rapadura in Brazil, Cuba, and a few other Latin American countries. In Colombia and Venezuela, it is called panela and it is called piloncillo in Mexico. Elsewhere, it is called chancaca or raspadura. It is almost identical in appearance and flavor to the jaggery sugar used in India an parts of Africa.
The word rapadura is Portuguese in origin and originated in Brazil, where much of the interior part of the country was given over to rapadura production until the arrival of coffee in the mid-1800s. The rapa part of the word comes from raspa, which translates to scraping and the duro at the end means hard. The oldest use of it in English comes from Hannibal Evans Lloyd, the philologist.
While the origin of rapadura sugar is not well documented, all the different versions of it in the Americas likely originated with India’s jaggery as it is essentially the same product. This type of sugar has been made since the beginning of the sugar industry in the West Indies. The most significant difference Rapadura and jaggery is the country of origin. Like jaggery, rapadura sugar is typically sold in a solid block that may be shaped like a disk or a loaf. The reason for the block form is that it is considered easier to transport when compared to sugar granules.
You can find rapadura sugar in many Latin markets in the US today and it is still used throughout Latin America. Note that it may be sold under one of the other many names for this type of sugar.
Rapadura sugar flavor profile
The flavor of rapadura sugar can be described as being somewhere between honey and molasses. It has light smoky notes and a little bitterness from the molasses content. Rapadura can vary significantly depending on where it is made and small differences in the process used to make it. Some batches will have more molasses than others and thus be darker and more flavorful (like the difference between light and dark brown sugars).
Health benefits of rapadura sugar
As with other forms of sugar that undergo minimal processing, rapadura sugar is promoted as having significant health benefits. Supposedly, these health benefits come from the molasses that gives them their golden brown color. Rapadura does contain molasses, which means that it does have small amounts of mineral nutrients that you would not get from refined sugar; however, it only contains nutrients in trace amounts. It does not have enough minerals from molasses to be considered beneficial for health. Furthermore, it is still a sugar and can have serious negative effects on health when consumed in excess.
Most of Brazil’s oldest traditional desserts and candies have rapadura as an ingredient. In some places, peanuts and other ingredients are added to make it into a sweet treat. It is also used as a sweetener for beverages; for example, it is common in the interior to Brazil for rapadura to be added to coffee. To break it down to a more usable form, you can grate it with a cheese grater or simply chop it into sugar cubes. Rapadura dissolves quickly in liquids, especially warm liquids. Granules of rapadura sugar may also be used to sweeten baked goods. Grate it and sprinkle it onto puddings and tortes.