Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What is Agave Nectar?

I recently attended a cooking class where the instructor prepared a chocolate mousse recipe using agave nectar. The mousse was wonderful and it sparked my curiosity to find out more about this sweetener.

Agave nectar, sometimes called agave syrup, is produced from several species of the agave plant including the Blue Agave Americana plant commonly found in Mexico. Agave is also the source of tequila and is related to the aloe plant. To produce the nectar, the leaves are removed when the plant is 7 to 14 years old and the juice is expressed from the core of agave plant. The juice is heated to break down the polysaccharides into simple sugars, mainly fructose. Agave nectar can be light or dark in color, depending on the degree of processing.

Sweeter than sugar, agave nectar, has been promoted as a sweetener that is natural and because of its high fructose content, has a lower glycemic index than table sugar and corn syrup. The low temperature processing also qualifies agave nectar for inclusion in a “raw” diet. For vegans, it is a honey substitute and can be substituted one-for-one. There have been some recent rumblings about how agave nectar compares to high fructose corn syrup as the latter comes under fire for contributing to the obesity crisis.

I found agave nectar in my local grocery store, grouped with the syrups. Because it dissolves quickly, it can be used as a sweetener for cold beverages such as cocktails, smoothies and iced tea. Wanting to experiment, I successfully baked muffins, substituting the sugar with agave nectar. It was recommended to use 2/3 of the sugar quantity to account for the increased sweetness. Substituting a liquid sweetener will not be appropriate in recipes where the sugar content adds significant volume and some lessening of the liquid ingredients may be needed.

Domino Foods, Inc, the sugar people, recently jumped into the agave market with Domino Organic Agave Nectar, sold in light and amber versions. They are promoting the nectar to use over fruits, cereals, in beverages, sauces and in baked goods.

As the United States addresses the increase in obesity and the accompanying diabetes diagnoses, sweeteners are on the hot seat. We like our sweet foods and have increased our intake of sweetened foods significantly in recent years. People with diabetes are looking for sugar substitutes that are safe, and often natural. Agave nectar, with its heightened sweetness can be enjoyed, as other sweeteners, in limited amounts and may have the advantage of raising the blood sugar less than other sweeteners. And if rising blood sugar is not your issue, you might like the flavor of agave nectar and a new product to enjoy in the food market. I have a bottle in my refrigerator so will be experimenting with this sweetener until the bottle is empty!

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