In Central America and South America, piloncillo is called Panela or "tapa dulce" (in Costa Rica) because of its bottle-cap shape. In Panama it is called raspadura, thought to derive from the words "raspar" (to scrape) and "duro" (hard), a reference to the way the hard sugar brick is shaven to produce usable shards for cooking. The local dialect often drops the letter "s"; the word spoken is "ra'padura" or rapadura.
The color of piloncillo ranges from light tan to dark brown. Piloncillo was considered an inferior sweetener, used as a cheaper substitute for refined sugar in dishes and desserts which did not require a colorless sweetener.