Miel de Caña
Molasses isn’t something we normally purchase in the United States—I actually think the only time I use molasses is to make Christmas ginger bread cookies! In my opinion, the molasses we have back home has a much stronger, overwhelming flavor, whereas here, it’s much sweeter. Even the name is sweeter: Miel de caña or translated to sugar cane honey. While sugar cane is grown all over Andalusia, there is only one still existing molasses factory in Europe and its right here in Andalusia. This factory in FRIGILIANA continues the tradition of sugar cane molasses that was originally introduced by the Arabs to Spain.
This beautiful building was created at the end of the 16th century for the Manrique de Lara family and in the 1720’s it was converted to a working miel de caña molasses factory. Nowadays, this factory produces about 300,000 kilos of molasses a year! Almost everything produced is sold within Spain. So, where can you buy this delicious stuff? Besides souvenir shops in Andalusia, you can also find it in big supermarkets such as Mercadona, El Corte Ingles, Supersol, and Carrefour.
If you make it to the picturesque white village of Frigiliana in Andalusia, I highly recommend picking up a bottle of this delicious nectar—it’s a great way to flavor many things you probably already eat and also surprisingly healthy. Essentially, the sugar cane molasses (miel de caña) contains the nutrients absorbed by the plant, whereas the unhealthy, refined sugar is sold in supermarkets as normal sweeteners. Just doing some RESEARCH, Michael Ravensthorpe claims that it contains good levels of copper, calcium iron and magnesium—making it good for hair regrowth, a safe sweetener for diabetics, and a natural laxative. Delicious and relatively healthy—perfecto.
Miel de caña is used to make a wide variety of desserts such arropia (hard candies), popcorn balls, cakes, topping for flan, cookies, etc.—the first two being very popular treats at Frigiliana’s LAS CRUCES FESTIVAL. Besides being a popular dessert accompaniment, locals enjoy miel de caña with cheese, toast, and on yogurt topping for breakfast. It’s sweetness pairs really well with salty foods. One of my very favorite dishes in Andalusia is called “berenjenas fritas con miel de caña,” which means fried eggplant, aubergine if you are British, drizzled with molasses. This is a very popular dish that is not only tasty, but easy to make and impressive in presentation. After a few trials and tastings, here is my recommendation:
Fried Eggplant with Miel de Caña
- 1-2 cups of milk or beer
- 1 large eggplant/aubergine
Slice the eggplant in 1cm thick rounds—then halve them. It’s awkward to eat if they’re in full rounds.
Soak the pieces in a bowl of either milk or beer for an hour, fully submerged.
Dredge each piece in flour and set aside. Add a teaspoon or so of salt to your flour before dredging. Fun tip: you can buy a bag of flour in the BAKERIES in Spain! No more waiting in line at Mercadona when you just need to pick some up quickly!
Fill a large frying pan with two dedos of OLIVE OIL. Yes, two dedos! Dedo translates to finger—hold your index and middle fingers out together and the thickness of them is two dedos. This measurement is used for many things in Spain such as when you get your hair cut for example, “Cortame solo dos dedos,” meaning cut two fingers worth off the end of my hair!
Heat your olive oil over medium high/high heat.
Fry all pieces until golden brown setting them aside as you go. Once relatively cooled, drizzle with miel de caña! Aproveche! This traditional dish pairs well with just about any meat or fish… or go big and impress your friends with some Spanish tortilla de patata and a homemade gazpacho!