Aguapanela, agua de panela or agüepanela is a drink commonly found throughout South America and a few parts of Central America and Caribbean. Its literal translation means "panela water" as it is an infusion made from panela which is derived from hardened sugar cane juice.
Though recipe variations exist throughout South America, it is mostly popular in Colombia, Venezuela and parts of Brazil where it is consumed as a tea as an alternative to coffee. Ecuador, Chile and Peru also offer slight variations. In Colombia, it is commonly drunk with a hint of lemon, much the way a tea is consumed.
Aguapanela is made by adding pieces of panela to water and stirring until the pieces are entirely dissolved. The drink may be served hot or cold, with lemon or lime often being added. In the hot form, sometimes milk or a chunk of cheese is added in place of fruit juice.
In Colombia, black coffee is often prepared with aguapanela instead of water and sugar.
Many claims have been made about the beneficial effects of aguapanela, based on beliefs such as having more vitamin C than orange juice or as many rehydrating minerals as Gatorade. Popular belief also considers it a helpful drink for the treatment of colds. Today, aguapanela has gone from being a blue-collar drink to one that can be found in upscale café boutiques in Colombia as a tea.
Since panela is a relatively cheap, locally produced food, many farmers in Colombia, especially peasants, obtain the majority of their caloric intake from it. In many cases panela and small amounts of rice and plantain are the only foods available, due to the scarcity and high prices of other products rich in proteins, such as meat and milk. This phenomenon causes a high rate of kwashiorkor type malnutrition in children. The Colombian government tries to alleviate this situation by providing soy-derived flour to the poor as a source of protein.