(Health Secrets Newsletter) As we look at the agave plant, some interesting things emerge that would make it fun and healthful to live near one of the more sugar-rich species (there are many species of agave). What comes from the agave plant has truly amazing properties.
Agave nectar is gathered by cutting its flower stalk right before actual flowering takes place. Right as the plant readies its blossoms, there is a rush of sap (analogous to the flow of sap in sugar maple trees in the early spring when they are tapped for maple syrup). This rush of sap is captured by the harvester, who cuts a hole in the agave flower stalk (stopping the blossoming process) and is then able to gather the sap freely as it pumps right out of the plant for the next 8 months at a rate of up to 16 quarts a day!
Next, a plant enzyme is introduced into the sap to convert its complex sugars into simple sugars similar to those found in honey. The mixture is then dehydrated to reduce the water content so the liquid is thick and syrupy. Most agave is dehydrated at temperatures that exceed 140 degrees and kill its enzymes, but agave labeled raw is kept below 113 degrees, preserving enzyme content.
This sap or nectar is wonderfully sweet and mild flavored, and although it has been harvested in South America since Aztec times, it has only recently gained popularity in the natural foods industry as a wholesome sweetener with many good reasons to choose it over other more conventional sweeteners.
Agave is most recognized for its low glycemic index properties. This is largely because, while it is very sweet, the carbohydrates in agave break down very slowly. They are not break down quickly like sugars that cause blood sugar levels to spike. The advantage here is that the body will extract sugar from agave as though it were a time-release capsule–slowly and only about as fast as the body can handle it, making it an exciting new sweetening option for diabetics.
This slow break-down can be further enhanced by choosing raw agave nectar, which will have a higher enzyme content than heated varieties. The enzymes in raw foods act as keys to unlock the nutrients they contain. Any food devoid of its own enzymes will require the pancreas or liver to produce them so digestion can take place. Thus raw agave seems to be the ideal for diabetics and those who wish to avoid added digestive strain.
Some other interesting facts about the agave plant:
*The flowers are sweet and edible.
*The leaf juice will lather in water like soap and has natural saponins.
*The plant contains diosgenin, a chemical also found in wild yam and fenugreek which is a hormone regulator. Diosgenin is also an anti-inflammatory, a liver protector, and an anti-stress and anti-fatigue chemical.
*Another prominent chemical found in agave is sarsapogenin, which is useful for psoriasis and bleeding gums.
*Mezcal is made from the untreated sap of the agave plant. The most well known variety of mezcal is called Tequila! (Donâ€™t worry, the enzyme-converted and dehydrated sweetener you purchase will not turn to alcohol, although if left at room temperature for more than a year, it will begin to ferment.)
We keep both honey and agave nectar on hand for various uses, but one advantage that is unique to agave is itâ€™s ability to dissolve easily in cold liquids, making it more convenient for sweetening teas that have cooled, smoothies or other cold beverages. My favorite brand is Madhava, and I purchase the raw variety in gallon jugs to save a considerable amount of money.
To substitute agave for sugar in recipes follow these 3 rules:
1. 2/3 cup agave replaces 1 c. sugar
2. In baking, to compensate for the extra moisture in the agave, reduce other liquids by 1 fl. oz. per 2/3 c. agave used.
3. If baking with agave, to avoid over-browning, reduce oven temp by 25 degrees and increase time by 6%.
Learn how to make Dragon Fruit Salad with this wonderful sweetener. Agave is a marvelous addition to your natural kitchen, take advantage of some today!
For more information:
Traciâ€™s Transformational Kitchen: Making Truly Healthful Food Taste Delicious!