Short and Sweet
The agave plant is a native plant of Mexico, and is where a large amount of agave products still come from. The Aztecs used both the flower and nectar as a food source, eaten as a cooked or raw vegetable. The flowers, the leaves,
the stalks and the sap are all edible. Agave nectar is used to make the drink called Aguamiel, otherwise known as honey water, or fermented to make Mescal and Tequila.
Agave plants grow from a short stalk, and the leaves can be quite long. Agave plants bloom only once in their lifetime, growing a large stem and a number of short tubular flowers. The original plant dies but suckers at the base of the stem regularly grow into new plants. The stalks may be harvested before the plant flowers and chewed as a sweet treat.
The agave plant exists in many different sizes and colors, but the blue agave is a popular choice for food related uses.
The juice of the leaves will lather in water like a soap. Natives of Mexico used parts of the agave to make pens, nails, needles, and string to sew and weave. Leaf tea or tincture is used to treat constipation, flatulence and as a diuretic. Root tea or tincture is used to treat arthritis.
Making the Syrup
Agave nectar, first realized in the 1990’s, is harvested by cutting the off the top of the plant, hollowing out the core, and replacing the top. The nectar is harvested after several days of collection. Harvest occurs when the plant is 7 to 14 years old.
After harvest, the nectar is boiled down to increase its concentration and yield a sweeter syrup. Heating also breaks down the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that make it easier to digest. A heat-free method of processing involves the use of enzymes derived from Aspergillus mold.
Raw agave nectar is produced in a similar fashion, with the exception that it is not heated above 118 degrees. Similar to honey, this retains the live enzymes to yield greater health benefits.
Like honey and maple syrup, there are several grades of agave nectar that yield different flavors.
- Light agave syrup-almost neutral flavor, mostly just sweet
- Amber agave syrup-caramel flavor of medium intensity
- Dark agave syrup-stronger caramel flavor than amber. This will be the most flavorful as a topping for foods. It is unfiltered and contains a higher concentration of minerals.
- Raw agave syrup-mild taste similar to light. Because it is produced at temperatures below 118 °F, it retains the natural enzymes.
To your Health
Agave has been proven to be a low glycemic index food, meaning its fructose is released slowly into the blood stream. This is good for diabetics, who have difficulty with blood sugar maintenance.
It also contains high levels of vitamins E, C, D, and E. and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. And if you are buying the raw variety, the natural enzymes help with inflammation and healing.
There is some controversy of the overall health of agave nectar because its sugar content is primarily fructose. Fructose has been shown in studies to be the primary food source for cancer cells, so there is questions surrounding if its benefits outweigh that concern.
To this date, agave has not been genetically engineered.
However, agave is a farmed plant and may be treated with fertilizer or other plant food products. For this reason I would seek out non-GMO verified agave products.
Find Non-GMO Verified Agave Sweetener on my blog!