Agave nectar (also called agave syrup) is a sweetener commercially produced in Mexico from several species of agave, including the Blue Agave (Agave tequilana), Salmiana Agave (Agave salmiana), Green Agave, Grey Agave, Thorny Agave, and Rainbow Agave.
Agave nectar is sweeter than honey, though less viscous. Agave nectar is produced in the Mexican States of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas, according to Mexican laws pertaining to certificate of origin; most is produced in Jalisco.
The name ‘agave’ derives from a Greek word meaning “noble.” Agave and Tequila (alcoholic beverage) are both made from the sap from hearts (pinas) of the plant. Agave is actually related to the lily and amaryllis (which has its own genus, agave) and is a succulent though it shares a common habitat with many cacti. There are over 160 variations or species of agave.
Contrary to popular opinion amongst health food enthusiasts, agave is not a cacti and has an altogether different life cycle.
A mature agave plant has leaves 5-8 feet tall and is 7-12 feet in diameter and has a lifespan of 7-15 years depending on the species, climate, and growing conditions.
Agave nectar as a commercially produced sweetener hit the shelves of health food stores beginning in the early 1990s and quickly become a highly touted alternative to other sugars and sweeteners such sugar and honey.
Agave Nectar (technically not a nectar but a syrup, and thus technically “Agave Syrup”) has come under attack lately from various individuals, including members of the Weston A.
Price Foundation and other health food advocates and even some raw foodists.
Well, anytime there’s a controversy about something pertaining to health, diet, food, or herbs, Dherbs.com is sure to be hit with a barrage of inquiries through its “Ask the Herbalist” and in which it most definitely has been hit with a barrage of inquiries pertaining to Agave nectar and the controversy surrounding it which gives rise to this particular article.
First, it is our contention that certain brands of Agave Nectar (syrup) is a great and healthy alternative to sugar (white table sugar) and honey. Now, the key word above is “certain”, because all brands of Agave Nectar are not the same and independent research will prove this. It is unfair to paint all Agave Nectar with one big brush.
Agave Nectar brands can and will differ predicated upon the following: (1) geography or soil the plant comes from, (2) the variation of the plant the Agave Nectar comes from, and (3) how it is commercially processed. Always keep this in mind pertaining to the Agave Nectar controversy.
All Agave Nectar is not the same and the people condemning this product are generalizing all brands of Agave Nectar which is unfair because every brand of Agave Nectar on the market does not contain substance from the same plant, does not come from the same location or soil, and are not commercially processed the same.
My defense of Agave Nectar is only in regards to organic raw Agave Nectar because most commercial brands of Agave Nectar on the market are in fact suspect (mislabeled).
Agave Nectar sweetens with about 25% fewer calories and is low on the Glycemic Index which is much better for diabetics and people who desire longer-lasting energy instead of the infamous post sugar blues.
Agave nectars such as Volcanic Nectars Blue Agave Nectar are produced below 118 F, contain no artificial fillers, do not contain large amounts of fructose (as most brands do, ranging between 55-97% in fructose), and have a low Glycemic Index of 27.
In fact, Volcanic Nectars brand of Agave Nectar contains less than 50% fructose (47.6%), much lower than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
The reason why some people are saying agave nectar is worse than high fructose corn syrup is because high fructose corn syrup contains 55% fructose and many brands of agave nectar contain fructose levels ranging from 70-97%. Of course this is the result of processing (over boiling) as Agave Nectar is processed just like maple syrup, the sap from the plant being boiled which is how it becomes very sweet. The same exact thing happens with Grade A maple syrup which is not very sweet before processing.
Nearly all Agave Nectar comes from Mexico. There are numerous kinds of agave throughout the country of Mexico.
Also, the soil from which an agave comes from is important. An agave from volcanic soil is going to cause an Agave Nectar to have a distinct taste and color as well as nutritional composition.
How Agave Nectar is processed has a direct affect on its taste, color, and nutritional value. This is why agave nectar should be processed under 118 F which allows it to be considered a raw food because it still has nutritional value (mineral content) and enzymes it.
There are only a few brands of Agave Nectar that I can actually promote and recommend and Volcanic Nectar is one such brand.
Volcanic Nectars’s brand of Agave Nectar contains healthy bacteria in the form of Inulins, which are naturally occurring oligosaccharides that are healthy for your digestive system as they promote beneficial flora.
Inulins are a group of naturally occurring oligosaccharides produced by many types of plants. Oligosaccharides are several simple sugars linked together that belong to a class of carbohydrates known as fructans.
Inulin is used by some plants as a means to store energy and typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants which synthesize and store inulin do not store other materials such as starch. Remember this when certain people claim that agave contains starch.
Inulin is used increasingly in foods, because it has excellent nutritional and functional characteristics. This is particularly advantageous because inulin contains one-third to one-fourth the food energy of sugar or other carbohydrates and one-sixth to one-ninth the food energy of fat. Inulin also increases calcium absorption and possibly magnesium absorption, while promoting probiotic bacteria.
Nutritionally, inulin is considered a form of soluble fiber. Inulin has a minimal impact on blood sugar, making it generally considered suitable for diabetics and potentially helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses.
The Volcanic Nectar band of agave (Blue Nectar) is organic, raw (processed under 118 F), and has a fructose level of 47.6%). Dherbs.com endorses this specific brand of Agave Nectar.
Now, even though Agave Nectar generally contains close to the same amount of calories per tablespoon as sugar (c. 45), because it is sweeter than sugar and honey (in taste), you don’t have to use a lot of it. You can use less and still achieve your objective of sweetness. Agave Nectar is a great sweetener for cooking purposes, especially desserts.
With certain brands of Agave Nectar (like Volcanic Nectar), you can use 1/3 cup of it compared to 1 cup of sugar, thus greatly reducing your caloric intake.
Lastly, to go a little bit more into the Agave Nectar-High Fructose Corn Syrup controversy, one needs to look for more similarities between the two substances if one in fact wants to say or claim Agave Nectar and High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS] are basically the same (which they are not).
High Fructose Corn Syrup is made from starch, so yes, High Fructose Corn Syrup will contain starch in it. Agave Nectar does not contain starch and if any brand of Agave Nectar does, chances are it is not Agave Nectar, or, it contains High Fructose Corn Syrup in it (which cuts production costs).
High Fructose Corn Syrup does not have any health benefits. None! High Fructose Corn Syrup does not have a Low Glycemic rating which makes it a serious threat to so-called diabetics.
High Fructose Corn Syrup will greatly throw off one’s blood sugar levels which will throw the body out of whack, impairing homeostasis.
To really get the 411 on High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS], I highly recommend you watch the DVD “King Corn” and then you’ll see for yourself how greatly processed HFCS really is and how one would fare better using Agave Nectar over HFCS, one of the most used commercial sweeteners today because it is so readily available (being a byproduct of the corn industry).
And not to mention, High Fructose Corn Syrup comes from genetically engineered corn whereas no Agave Nectar is derived from genetically engineered agave. This is something to think about!
Now, just because a brand of Agave Nectar may have a 56-97% fructose content level does not mean that High Fructose Corn Syrup is better for you than Agave Nectar. Remember, even if a brand of Agave Nectar is high in fructose, you’re actually using less of it than compared to sugar. Now this is not to justify consuming brands of Agave Nectar with high fructose levels. No, I’m not saying this at all. I’m just helping folks to make comparisons between the two substances.
It is very true that many brands of Agave Nectar have added sugars in them, including HFCS (which will adversely affect your blood sugar). So all Agave Nectar is NOT the same! You have to do your research.
Perhaps the best kind of Agave Nectar on the market is the Blue Agave Nectar, also known as Blue Agave.
Blue Agave is actually a desert succulent, not a cactus as some believe or have been led to believe. Blue Agave is a species native to Mexico. While there are many kinds of agave throughout Mexico, the Blue Agave variety flourishes in volcanic soil in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Although the alcoholic beverages Tequila and Mezcal are produced all over Mexico and throughout the world, the mountainous state of Jalisco, Mexico is its birthplace. The primary reason for this is that soil in that region comes from the old volcanoes that make up the mountain range. The soil here shimmers like glitter from all of the nutrients. The Blue Agaves are more hearty and plentiful in Jalisco than anywhere else in the world. Incidentally there’s a town in Jalisco near the city of Guadalajara called Tequila.
An interesting fact is: if agave ferments, it becomes an alcoholic beverage or spirit: TEQUILA!
So, when it comes to Agave Nectar and certain people painting all Agave Nectar with one big brush claiming all Agave Nectar is unhealthy and worse than High Fructose Corn Syrup, in the words of Public Enemy and Flava Flav: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE!
Compliments of Kshamica Nimalasuriya MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine & Public Health
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