The Wonder Working Agave Nectar
by Greg Rutkowski
Agave nectar comes from agave plants. It's most popularly used for making aguamiel, tequila and mezcal. Harvested from blue agave, it undergoes extraction and heating before being ready for use. The come in three different grades: Lightest, amber and the darkest variations. Agave nectar is also used in ancient healing, sweetening, modern health food, beverages and baking.
Agave presents the world with all manner of goodies, including agave nectar.
The high fructose corn syrup has two common uses of agave nectar are making aguamiel, an unfermented drink, and tequila or mezcal, both fermented. Aguamiel is what forms honey water. Lets start with how it all began as we dig in to know more about the wonder working agave nectar.
History of Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is a product of agave plants, which exists in more than 100 species and it grows in Mexico in volcanic soils. The natives have been using it over the centuries, and they believe that the gods sent the agave nectar as a gift. The nectar and flowers are both edible, and the natives (Aztecs) consider it a significant food source. They harvest the agave after winter and eat it as a vegetable.
Agave nectar is a product from the sap which comes out from the heart of agave plants. The agave plant, in this case, is related to amaryllis and lily. It is referred to as succulent, and it also shares a typical habitat with cacti. However, this does not make it one of them because its life cycle is also different. A mature agave plant has 5-8 feet tall leaves with 7-12 feet diameter. The lifespan of the plant is about 8-15 years. This depends on the growing conditions, the climate, and more so the species.
Production of Agave Nectar
Harvesting of Blue Agave
Among the many species of the Mexican agave, it is the blue agave (Agave tequilana weber Azul) that is used in the production of agave nectar and even tequilas. The reason behind this is that blue agave is considered the world’s finest agave.
The blue agaves undergo both asexual and sexual reproduction naturally. However, those producing alcohol only undergo asexual reproduction because they are never allowed to attain sexual maturity. At the beginning of sexual maturity, the agaves produce flowering spikes in the center of the agaves. However, the farmers sever the flowering spikes, which redirects all the energy and nutrients meant for making seeds and flowers. The redirected energy and nutrients move to the heart of the agave plant, and the central stem or severed spike starts swelling.
The extraction process for this agave is straightforward, and it begins with the removal of the leaves from the agave plant. At This point, these agaves take on a new name called piÃ±a since they appear like giant pineapples. Agave nectar is natural and can sweeten any food or beverage, and it is a product of the carbohydrates in the agave plant. Through the healing process, which is very natural and free of chemicals, the agave farmers develop a very natural product. After expressing the juice from the agave’s core, the farmers filter the juice to create agave syrup or nectar. The filtration process helps to remove the natural solids from the nectar.
The team then removes the agave base and takes it to the facility, where heating takes place to about a temperature of 118 degrees F. The heating involves using a massive “pressure cooker,” which enables the juices to flow. During heating, thermal hydrolysis takes place, breaking down carbohydrates in the agave into sugars. The main carbohydrate in the agave is fructosan or inulin, which is complex fructose. The team then concentrates the filtered juice to a syrup-like fluid which is a bit thinner than honey. Fructose is an example of simple sugar found in vegetables and fruits. Its predominance in the agave nectar makes it sweeter than sucrose. Thus, only a tiny amount can yield the same sweetness as that of sucrose but with fewer calories. As a result, the gave nectar has a lot of advantages in the foods and the health of the consumers.
After heating, the team chops up, filters, and sends the ball or base of the plant through a centrifuge. After that, they transfer the base into bottles as final products to be sold in the market. Although there are other faster ways of producing agave nectar, the traditional method produces healthier products, which is also the most preferred.
Inulin is a group of naturally occurring oligosaccharides, and they exist in different kinds of plants. Inulin belongs to fructans (a class of carbohydrates), and it naturally fortifies the blue agave used in agave nectar. Some plants also use it to store energy, and in most cases, it is located in the rhizomes or roots. Most of the plants that store inulin tend not to store other materials like starch.
The increased use of inulin in foods is because of its excellent functional and nutritional characteristics. The best part of it is that inulin contains about 1/3 to ¼ sugar energy and other carbohydrates; and 1/6 to 1/9 fat energy. Moreover, inulin increases the absorption of calcium and possibly magnesium and is also promotes probiotic bacteria. Nutritionally, inulin is a form of soluble fiber, and it has a very minimal impact on blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is generally suitable for those with diabetes, and it helps manage illnesses related to blood sugars.
Grades of Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is very popular, and you can find it in very many grocery stores alongside other sweeteners. In some cases, you can also find it in the section on natural foods. Like different syrups, it also has a range of flavor intensities and colors, which include:
- Lighter grades of agave nectar are similar to simple syrup. They are preferred for cocktails like vodka sour and margarita, which are lightly flavored. This is because the flavors of the light grades are almost transparent.
- Amber has a relatively stronger flavor with an intensity closer to that of honey. This grade is the most common, and it is very versatile. Therefore, you can mix it into almost all drinks, including those whose flavors are very strong.
- The darkest agave nectar is similar to light molasses. It is best in mixed drinks when used sparingly, and it also makes a perfect sweetener for coffee. It is also an excellent alternative to maple syrup.
Agave nectar mixes well, just like a simple syrup in both cold and hot drinks. It works better in cold drinks than honey, and you can use it as a sweetener in tea, coffee, and any other drink recipes that call for sweeteners. Some of the drink recipes for agave nectar include:
- For hot tea and coffee drinks, start with ½ teaspoon of the agave nectar and add more to taste.
- Being that the natural agave products are companions, agave nectar is the best sweetener for cocktails. Consider trying it in a spicy margarita and other cocktails.
- It also pairs well with most distilled spirits, and you can pair it with rum, whiskey, and vodka.
- Also, consider making freshly squeezed lemonade using agave nectar in the place of simple syrup or sugar.
Common Uses of Agave Nectar
1. Ancient Healing
Modern medical studies claim that applying agave nectar to the skin is effective against pus-producing (pyogenic) bacteria, including Staph aureus. Moreover, the tradition which involves the addition of salt to the nectar boosts its anti-microbial property. Agave nectar also has a significant effect on intestinal (enteric) bacteria.
2. Modern Health Food
Refined sweeteners like corn syrup and granulated sugar have increasingly dominated the western diet in the last century. However, these substances have a very high glycemic load and index (measures of the impact of foods on blood sugar). When the blood sugar levels rise, it leads to the release of insulin hormones. Excessive release of this hormone is a contributing factor to metabolic syndrome, which is a health disorder. Ailments associated with this disorder include type II diabetes and insulin resistance, obesity and abdominal weight gain, high blood pressure, and raised cholesterol and triglycerides.
Unlike the processed sugars, agave nectar has a very low glycemic index, and therefore its breakdown takes place very slowly. As a result, the effect on blood sugar levels is more gradual. Consequently, it prevents the rapid increase in the blood sugar levels that cause insulin rush. The use of agave nectar is essential for individuals with diabetes since it helps them manage their diabetic condition.
Even for non-diabetics, insulin levels and high blood sugar levels also relate to Metabolic Syndrome. The agave contains compounds known as saponins which have anti-inflammatory effects. Saponins are anti-microbial. The Aztecs mixed the nectar with salt and used it to treat their wounds.
Another beneficial substance in nectar is inulin. The inulin in agave nectar helps people who want to lose weight. This fiber controls appetite by increasing the feeling of fullness.
Since agave nectar can dissolve quickly, it is becoming more common in beverage drinks. It is a suitable sweetener for iced tea, beer, wine, liquor, and coffee drinks.
You can use the nectar in place of honey to act as a food sweetener. You can drizzle the nectar over yogurt, cereal, or porridge. You can also use it in salad dressing and different kinds of sauces.
When using agave nectar for baking, you should use ¾ of the amount of sugar you would have used in the recipe and reduce the amount of liquid used. Also, the moisture retention is similar for both honey and agave syrup, and you can substitute it in equal amounts for maple syrup and honey. As a result, Agave nectar is suitable for bread and cakes, although it may not be perfect for hard candy or crisp cookies. Agave syrup causes the baked foods to be brown quickly. Therefore, you may consider reducing the temperatures in the oven to about 25 degrees F.