Agave Nectar is one of the more recent "new kid on the block" sweeteners I've been hearing bantered about often at Starbucks lately. I hate to burst the latte crowd's bubble but Agave Nectar is NOT a natural sweetener, and when you use words like "organic," "raw," and "natural" they should mean something. Sadly, agave nectar is not truly raw, nor is it all natural. Based on the labeling, I could picture native peoples creating their own agave nectar from wild agave plants. Surely, this was a traditional food, eaten for thousands of years. Sadly, it is not. Native Mexican peoples do make a sort of sweetener out of the agave plant. It's called miel de agave, and it's made by boiling the agave sap for a couple of hours. Think of it as the Mexican version Canadian maple syrup. This is not what agave nectar is. Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed in the 1990s.
First a little Agave history. The valleys that lie beside the volcano at the heart of the Tequila region were the home of the a complex society that reached its peak between 200 BCE and 350 CE. Archeologists estimate more than 50,000 people may have lived within 15 miles of the Tequila volcano. Agave nectar was known and widely used among the Pre-Columbian cultures. It was used as a flavoring for several dishes, and as a sweetener when drinking chocolate, both were highly valued and traded extensively throughout Mesoamerica, and there is evidence that desserts made with toasted squash or amaranth seeds and boiled agave syrup or honey were given as gifts and used as ritual offerings. Agave nectar, or aguamiel, is harvested primarily in Southern Mexico from the agave varietal maguey shawii and from other members of the agave family, most related to the Blue Agave from which mezcal and sotal are made. However, there is a big difference in the harvesting process to obtain agave nectar as opposed to the production of tequila.
Today's Agave "nectar" is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-looking, root bulb. The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose (sugar) molecules. Technically a highly indigestible fiber, inulin, which does NOT taste sweet, comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave. The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into Agave "nectar" is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS.) The agave starch is "cooked" with caustic acids, clarifiers, and filtration chemicals in an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup, anywhere from 70 to 90% fructose according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites. Compare that to the typical fructose content of high fructose corn syrup which is about 55%, the level we already know can cause significant liver damage, by causing insulin resistance. This dangerous condition, is known as Syndrome X. When you are insulin resistant, it prevents the efficient conversion of food into energy by desensitizing the walls of your cells to insulin. Insulin acts as "a key in a lock" sort of, allowing glucose to pass through the cell wall and be converted to energy. Insulin Resistance prevents glucose passing through the insulin "door" into the cell. As a result, the rejected glucose floats freely in the blood stream, causing elevated levels of blood sugar, which are sent to the liver. Once there, the sugar is converted into fat and carried via the blood stream throughout the body in a process that can lead to weight gain and obesity. It's called non alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFL.
You may be thinking, "Hey, isn't fructose found in fruit ?" If you are, you're correct. Small doses of fructose with the accompanying enzymes and fiber found in fruit is ok, but drinking it by the quart like some people do in diet soda is another ballgame all-together. Concentrated fructose is not found in fruit, or anywhere else in nature. When sugar occurs in nature, it is often called "levulose" and is accompanied by naturally-occurring enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. Concentrated fructose, on the other hand, is a man-made sugar created by the refining process. Refined fructose lacks amino acids, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and fiber. As a result, the body doesn't recognize refined fructose. Levulose, on the other hand, is naturally occurring in fruits, and is not isolated but bound to other naturally occurring sugars. Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine. Levulose is digested in the intestine. Fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn't get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn’t raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics. But it isn't, it's not safe for anyone in large doses. Fructose inhibits leptin levels, the hormone your body uses to tell you that you're full. In other words, fructose makes you want to eat more. Besides contributing to weight gain, it also makes you gain the most dangerous kind of fat, "artery clogging" elevated triglycerides.
No question about it from everything I've read I won't be substituting any of my fine natural sweeteners like Stevia, or Xylitol with Agave Nectar anytime soon. Is it is bad for you? You read the facts. I hope I was clear. Agave Nectar is not traditional, not natural, it's highly refined, and contains more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup. Modern Agave nectar syrup is a triumph of marketing over science. True, it has a low-glycemic index, but so does diesel fuel, that doesn't mean it's good for you to eat. If you simply must have some sweets once in a while, a small amount of agave nectar isn't going to kill you, but when you give in to that temptation you help a company prosper off the poor health of others, maybe in your family, maybe you. At the very least, just don't buy into the idea that Agave Nectar any better for you than Cane Sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup, and some would say worse. Good Luck...
I do know one thing for sure that Blue Agave is really good for making and that's Tequila !! The Mexican government controls the tequila brand and regulates production to protect quality. Premium tequila has a 100% agave label meaning that it only contains sugars from the blue agave, was bottled at a distillery in tequila country and has an alcohol content of 70 to 110 proof. The town of Tequila has ultramodern distilleries for the largest Tequila companies, and small family-run estates where tequila is still produced using old world artisan techniques.
Know your Tequila:
Tequila Blanco or White Tequila is bottled immediately after being distilled. Sometimes colorants such as caramel are added to produce Tequila oro.
Tequila Reposado is white tequila that is kept in white oak casks for more than two months and up to a year. The result is a mellower flavor and bouquet.
Tequilañejo is aged in white oak casks for more than a year, acquiring an amber color and distinctive smooth flavor. Some aged tequilas are stored in oak barrels for up to eight years and are known as Reserva.
Tequila, aside from what it's detractors have to say has many quality attributes not the least of which are, in small doses it can be a relaxing way to end the work week, it can aid in your socialization skills, it can make your cloths fall off rather easily. Also it is a rather dependable sleep aid. So there you have it If you're not underage or have a drinking problem, the choice is simple...Blue Agave Nectar= BAD... Blue Agave Tequila GOOD !!!
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