Agave nectar (sometimes called agave syrup) is most often produced from the Blue Agaves that flourish in the volcanic soils of Southern Mexico. Agaves are large, spikey plants that resemble cactus or yuccas in both form and habitat, but they are actually similar to the familiar Aloe Vera.
Agaves come in many sizes and colors. There are over 100 species. Due to the Blue Agave’s high carbohydrate content (which results in a high percentage of fructose in the final nectar), Blue Agave is the preferred species for producing nectar. Though there are other species used to produce agave nectars, such as the Maguey Agave, the premium nectars are produced from 100% Weber Blue Agave.
The taste of agave nectar is analogous, though not identical, to honey. Many people who do not like the taste of honey find agave a more palatable choice. It also has none of the bitter aftertaste associated with artificial sweeteners.
WHY AGAVE OVER OTHER SWEETENERS
It can be a challenge for even experienced cooks to substitute artificial sweeteners for sugars without compromising food quality or palatability. An artificial sweetener may be suitable for reducing the caloric content and glycemic index of a dish, but they lose their usefulness in many other culinary applications where a sugar is needed for more than its ability to sweeten.
WHAT ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS CAN DO
In some instances, as when replacing sugars in drinks, the primary side effect of using an artificial sweetener may be the addition of a chemical or bitter aftertaste in the finished product. Sometimes this can be remedied by under-sweetening a dish slightly, or by adding herbs, seasonings, or ingredients like citrus that can disguise an unpleasant aftertaste. In baked goods, however, sugars perform more functions than sweetening, many of which are difficult for imitation sugars to imitate.
WHAT ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS CAN’T DO
Sugars are a virtually indispensable aid to carmelization or browning meaning that breads and cookies rely on the presence of sugars to help form a crisp crust and a golden brown exterior. Depending on the other ingredients in the recipe, a cookie made with an artificial sweetener may have a reasonably good flavor, but come out of the oven looking pale and unappetizing.
Removing sugar from many sweets can also result in a compromised texture; for example, replacing the sugar in ice cream with an artificial sweetener (without the addition of other softening agents) can produce a frozen product that is full of ice crystals and unpleasantly hard.
In many regards agave nectar bridges the gap between real and artificial sweeteners. While it has all the useful properties of real sugars, its lower glycemic index helps protect against health risks associated with higher glycemic sweeteners.
Agave nectar can be used in many more applications than artificial sweeteners, while also producing more palatable results. Since it is composed of real sugars (fructose and glucose), agave nectar performs admirably in the kitchen and bakery. It matches refined sugars in all the qualities mentioned above, serving as a browning agent, a humectant, a softener, and a preservative.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF AGAVEAlthough notorious for the making of Tequila, agave can be a great health beneficial product. We bring you few of them.
Agave Nectar has been used for centuries as a flavoring, though native populations have also been aware of its health benefits and used it medicinally. The Aztecs used a mixture of agave nectar and salt as a dressing for wounds and a balm for skin infections, and agave’s use as a folk remedy persists today.
Modern medical study has confirmed agave’s remedial properties. Agave nectar applied to the skin has been found effective against pyogenic (pus producing) bacteria such as Staph aureus. The tradition of adding salt to the nectar has been found to further boost its anti-microbial property. Agave nectar has also been proven effective against enteric (intestinal) bacteria.
Modern Health Food
Especially in the last century, the western diet has become increasingly dominated by refined sweeteners such as granulated sugar and corn syrup. The problem with these substances is their high glycemic index and glycemic load – both measures of the relative impact that foods have on our blood sugar. Foods that raise blood sugar quickly trigger the release of the hormone insulin. Excessive releases of insulin and, more specifically, chronically high blood sugar and insulin levels are linked to Metabolic Syndrome (also called Syndrome X), which is a complex of health disorders. Associated ailments include insulin resistance and type II diabetes, abdominal weight gain and obesity, problems with blood lipids (raised triglycerides and cholesterol) and high blood pressure.
One of the most health-promoting properties of agave nectar is its favorable glycemic profile. Its sweetness comes primarily from a complex form of fructose called inulin. Fructose is the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. The carbohydrate in agave nectar has a low glycemic index, which provides sweetness without the unpleasant “sugar rush” and unhealthful blood sugar spike caused by many other sugars. Agave nectar is a delicious natural sweetener that can be used moderately – by dieters, some diabetics, and health conscious cooks – to replace high-glycemic and refined sugars.
While agave is best recognized as the plant from which tequila is made, it has also been used for thousands of years as an ingredient in food. The nectar made from the plant is known in Mexico as aguamiel, or “honey water.”
The Aztecs prized the agave as a gift from the gods and used the liquid from its core to flavor foods and drinks. Now, due to increasing awareness of agave nectar’s many beneficial properties, it is becoming the preferred sweetener of health conscious consumers, doctors, and natural foods cooks alike.
WHERE TO PURCHASE AGAVE BASED PRODUCTS
Certified organic Agave syrups, sweetener powder, Tequila are available from The Iidea Company (Link) base out of Mexico. We have personally used their syrup and powder, and we can boldly claim that they are of very superior quality.
One important point to be noted is that, unlike cane sugar or palm sugar, Agave sweetener has a very distinct and different taste, and might tickle your taste-buds, but in a good way.
If you want to try out or purchase agave based products in India, feel free to contact us through our website or give us a call.
Blog contributed by Akanksha Khurana, Under-graduate, New Delhi
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