Contributing Monkie GreenChef Staff Monkies
Published on February 11, 2009
I fell in love a few years ago with a new all natural liquid sweetener from the exotic agave plant – the same plant that is processed into tequila. This sweetener is a golden amber color like honey with a similar taste, yet it is subtler, smoother, and doesn’t overwhelm the palate like honey or sugar. And unlike honey it is low on the glycemic index, safe for diabetics and soluble in cold drinks. Which is probably why agave nectar is the new it ingredient showing up everywhere from smoothie and juice bars to hip cocktail bars. It’s paired with gin at the Orbit Room in San Francisco, with grapefruit vodka at Sonoma County’s Cyrus Restaurant, and stirred into the Margarita’s at Manhattan’s Employees Only. Even Coca~Cola has jumped on the scene and released a new energy drink called, Full Throttle Blue Demon in Blue Agave flavor. It’s surprisingly questionable if it has actual agave in it however.
The sweet nectar is made from the Blue Agave Plant, a desert succulent (not a cactus) native to Jalisco, Mexico – an area of Mexico rich in old volcanic soil. Both tequila and agave nectar are made from the sap from the piña (core) of the plant. The only difference is one is fermented and distilled and the other is not. The core of the agave is first pressed into a juice, filtered, and then heated to break down the carbohydrates into sugars and stop the fermentation. The syrup will still ferment slowly if not kept in a cool dry place. If you leave it out in the hot sun for a few months, you might notice a slightly acidic taste that burns the back of your throat. Don’t get excited just yet though, it still won’t have enough alcohol in it to make you happy.
Pure blue agave (tequilana weber azul) is made up of primarily fructose sugar and a little bit of glucose, and no other sugars. Watch out for companies who dilute their agave with cheap corn syrup in order to increase their bottom line – and increase your bottom line. The only brand I am aware of that is certified to have a Low GI by the Glycemic Research Institute and be safe for diabetics is Volcanic Nectar. Their agave has been tested to come in at 27 on the GI scale and 1.6 on the glycemic load. It is also certified organic and kosher. The whole hype about the low GI though does not guarantee that it won’t contribute to weight gain if you consume too much of it. It is still a carbohydrate. The main sugar, fructose, is a natural sugar found mainly in fruits and vegetables and is a great pre-biotic. Unlike glucose, which requires a surge of insulin to be used as energy in the body and turned into muscle glycogen, fructose does not need insulin to be used. This short chain fructose found in agave absorbs very slowly into the bloodstream. That is the primary reason why it is better tolerated by diabetics and those who are insulin resistant. Fructose is processed in the liver and turned into liver glycogen. Once the liver glycogen stores are full though, it has to store any excess as fat. To get an idea of how much fructose would fully replenish the liver glycogen – 24oz of Orange Juice would do it.
Despite still having to watch your intake, agave is a healthier alternative to honey, sugar, maple syrup, and of course all those abominable artificial sweeteners on the market. I use it to sweeten my teas, smoothies, salad dressings, and most of my deserts instead of cane sugar. You can even use it to make great homemade lemonaids or limeaids, or spritizers like my Grapefruit & Mint Spritzer. When using it instead of sugar in a recipe that calls for sugar, use 1/2-2/3 Cup for every 1 Cup of sugar called for. You will also need to reduce the amounts of other liquids in the recipe by about 1/4 – 1/3. And if you are using it in a baked recipe it is a good idea to reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees F. as it burns at a lower temperature.
Try some of these GreenChef recipes sweetened with agave: