How to Use Piloncillo Cones in Mexican Cooking

Rich, unprocessed sugar for food and drinks

Baking ingredients
Pilocillo is a potent ingredient in authentic Mexican cuisine. John Block/Getty Images
  • 01 of 05

    What Is Piloncillo?

    Chelsie Kenyon

    Piloncillo, whose name means "pylon" for its conical shape, is a raw form of pure cane sugar that is commonly used in Mexican cooking. This type of sugar has not been processed, leaving it with a golden brown color and a deliciously rich flavor similar to molasses, although it does not have any molasses in it.

    Unlike brown sugar, which is sometimes made by coating refined white sugar with molasses, piloncillo is pure sugar with no additives. You can use piloncillo anywhere you would other types of sweeteners.


    Piloncillo is sold by the ounce in a cone shape. There are two common forms available: blanco (light) and oscura (dark). The blanco piloncillo will have a lighter flavor and the oscura is richer and most like molasses.


    You should be able to keep piloncillo for a year or more under the right conditions. Store the cones in a cool, dark, and dry location and ensure that the cone is tightly wrapped.


    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Measuring Piloncillo

    You can find cones of piloncillo in various sizes, from small 2-ounce cones all the way up to large 8-ounce cones. Some recipes will list piloncillo in pounds, as in "1 pound of piloncillo." This sounds like a lot, but it is just two of the 8-ounce cones.

    The measurements for piloncillo are always in weight. The cones make it easy to measure since they are pre-formed in common weights used in recipes. Do not break up the cone and then measure it by the cup (sometimes referred to as 8 ounces) or you will have an inaccurate amount.


    If you don't have piloncillo on hand, you can substitute 1 cup of dark brown sugar and 1 tablespoon molasses for each 8- to 9-ounce cone.

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Using Piloncillo

    Chelsie Kenyon

    A number of delicious Mexican recipes use piloncillo and it's particularly useful in desserts. For tasty bread pudding, try capirotada. You can also use it to make a syrup to pour over buñuelos.

    Piloncillo is often used in beverages as well. It is the traditional sweetener for hot drinks such as atole and champurrado. You can also use it in refreshing, cold drinks like tepache de piña and agua fresca.

    Before you use piloncillo in a recipe, though, you must break it up. There are two good ways to do this: grating or chopping.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Chopping Piloncillo

    Chelsie Kenyon

    Chopping piloncillo is one of the quickest ways to break it up.

    Use a sharp, serrated knife in a slicing motion to scrape and chop the piloncillo. Some larger chunks may break off during this process which you can chop further. Depending on your recipe, you might even be able to leave the chunks.

    If you are making a syrup, the chunks will dissolve down. When making something like atole, you will want minimal chunks as the piloncillo won't have as much time to dissolve.

    Sometimes piloncillo can be too hard to chop. You can soften it by microwaving it for 10 to 20 seconds to make it easier to work with. If you encounter a very hard cone, you may need to go a little longer.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Grating Piloncillo

    Chelsie Kenyon

    When you need very fine piloncillo, use a grater. It does take a little more time than chopping it, but you'll find it worth the effort for some recipes, particularly cold drinks. Simply rub the piloncillo over the surface of the grater to grind it down.