Panela vs Paneer 

Panela vs Paneer 

Mexico’s Queso Panela and India’s Paneer Cheese – Similarities and Differences

Cheese is an integral ingredient in the cuisines of both Mexico and India. While India has a documented history of cheesemaking that goes back 4500 years, cheese and cheesemaking techniques were introduced to Mexico only about 500 years ago.

Mexico’s Panela and India’s Paneer have often been compared to one another. It is somewhat remarkable that the two countries each have a cheese that so closely resembles the other. Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and the differences between these two popular cheeses.

Panela Cheese vs Paneer

What is Panela Cheese?

Panela (pronounced pa-NEH-lah) cheese is commonly referred to as “queso canasta” or “queso de la canasta”. It takes this name from the baskets in which the cheese is commonly made and the characteristic imprint left on the exterior of the cheese after it has been pressed.

The exact origin of Panela cheese in Mexico is unknown but it is thought to have been an adaptation of Greek “basket cheese” and has certain characteristics in common with Feta. 

Panela is one of Mexico’s most popular “fresh cheeses” and is widely produced and distributed throughout the country and internationally. It is the third most highly manufactured cheese in Mexico and millions of pounds of Panela cheese are consumed every year. 

Predominantly made from skimmed or low-fat milk, it is lower in fat than many other Mexican cheeses. Panela is among the lowest-calorie cheeses while being high in calcium and protein.

It is a white cheese with a fresh milky taste and a slightly salty aroma.  It has a soft, springy consistency but the texture can range from a firm “cottage cheese” with the curd structure evident to a more dense, smooth consistency more commonly seen in industrially processed cheese. Commercially produced Queso Panela has an almost rubbery consistency and seems to “squeak” when you bite into it. 

Caprese salad made with panela cheese

Panela cheese has a mild, fresh milky flavor with a hint of salt. It is semi-soft and springy and can easily be sliced, cubed or shredded. This cheese is often diced or crumbled for salads, enchiladas and tacos.

However, the most notable quality of Panela cheese is its ability to stand up to high heat. The structure of Queso Panela allows it to be baked, fried or even grilled. Panela does not lose its shape or release any liquid or oil when heated. The cheese will warm, soften and brown beautifully without breaking or running making it a great meat substitute in many dishes.

What is Paneer?

Paneer (pronounced Paa-NEER) is a very popular cheese predominantly used in Indian cuisine. It is believed that Paneer was originally brought to India in the 1500s by Persian and Afghan colonials. In fact, Paneer is derived from the word peynir, which directly translates as “cheese” in both the Turkish and Persian languages. 

Panela Cheese vs Paneer

Paneer is a fresh, dry curd cheese that is meant to be consumed immediately or shortly after production. It is a very simple cheese to make with just a few ingredients. Milk, a plant-based acid and perhaps a touch of salt are all that is required to make fresh Paneer cheese.

Traditionally, Paneer cheese was made from buffalo milk which has a very high fat content. Today, modern manufacturers use a blend of buffalo and cow’s milk or 100% cow’s milk which results in a cheese with a lower fat content and a slightly different texture.

In India, where Hinduism is the predominant religion, cows are considered sacred. The use of rennet, a coagulant made from the stomach lining of the cow, is strictly forbidden. Thus, Paneer cheesemakers utilize acids like lime juice or vinegar to encourage the milk to curdle. 

Paneer is consumed in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Afghanistan and is the primary protein source for vegetarian Buddhists. It has become the main ingredient in countless Indian dishes and is one of the most popular and readily available street food items in India. You can find Paneer cheese in curries, wrapped in dough and fried or grilled on skewers. Its neutral flavor means that it also works well in desserts and is perfect to eat as a snack with fruit and nuts

Paneer cheese has a mild, milky, slightly buttery flavor. It is very low in salt which makes this a versatile cheese that can complement a wide variety of dishes, from savory to sweet. Its taste and texture can be compared to other varieties of white, fresh cheeses such as Panela, Queso fresco, unsalted, pressed Ricotta, fresh Mozzarella or unsalted Feta cheese.

Paneer cheese is one of the most important ingredients in Indian cuisine. It is a versatile ingredient that can be included in a wide variety of dishes, Indian or otherwise. The most notable quality of Paneer cheese is its ability to retain its form when exposed to high heat. You can brown the outside and the inside will be warm and gooey. It can be cubed and added to soups or curries and even deep-fried. Paneer cheese makes a delicious source of protein in many meat-free dishes.

Today, Paneer is one of the most popular food items in India and is widely available there. In the United States, Paneer is not so easy to find in major grocery stores but may be sold in Asian and Indian markets, packaged in blocks. If you do not have a suitable market or cheesemonger in your area, you can buy Paneer cheese online.

Panela Cheese vs Paneer – Are they the same?

How is Panela cheese similar to Paneer?

  • Both Panela cheese and Paneer are fresh cheeses
  • Panela and Paneer cheese are white in color
  • Paneer and Panela cheese are both mild in flavor
  • Panela and Paneer are both easy to crumble and slice
  • Paneer and Panela cheese both hold their shape when exposed to high heat
  • Commercially produced Panela and Paneer are made from pasteurized milk
  • Commercially produced Panela and Paneer are both smooth and uniform in texture

How are Panela and Paneer different?

  • Traditionally, Panela cheese is made from 100% cows milk while Paneer can be made with buffalo and/or cow’s milk
  • Panela cheese is commonly made with low-fat or skimmed milk while Paneer is made from full-fat milk
  • Paneer cheese is generally higher in fat and calories than Panela
  • Panela cheese is generally slightly saltier than Paneer cheese
  • Panela cheese may be made with rennet while Paneer cheese is made with vegetable or fruit-based acids
  • Paneer is always vegetarian-friendly, Panela cheese may not be

Panela cheese is just as popular in Mexico as Paneer cheese is in India. While neither cheese may be readily available in major U.S. grocery store chains, we think it’s worth the effort to seek out good local sources such as a Hispanic market that stocks a variety of Mexican cheeses like Queso Panela or an Indian market where you will certainly find Paneer.

The two cheeses are so similar they can practically be used interchangeably so if your recipe calls for one that you cannot source, you can feel comfortable substituting the other.


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