Agave plants are perennial treasures native to the western and southern United States, as well as the central and tropical areas of South America. These succulents have thick leaves which grow in an orb-shaped rosette – and bloom only once. This blooming schedule has helped some species of Agave to be referred to as the “Century Plant.”
Contrary to what some people believe, Agave plants are not closely related to cacti or aloe plants. A succulent plant, it is related to the lily and yucca, with a flower that some describe as similar to a pineapple. Agave grows slowly and will die after it flowers, however, shoots are generally produced from the base of the plant to generate new plants nearby.
These plants various ways they can be eaten. Flowers of the plant can used in tossed salads or can be roasted – and then eaten like sugarcane. Stalks of the plant are dried out or roasted, and perhaps powdered. Leaves, admired for being rich in sap, can also be eaten. The most common way to consume Agave, however, is through variations of the sweet nectar liquid it produces.
Please note there are over 200 various species of Agave. Aztec cultures supposedly mixed the aforementioned nectar with salt-like substances and used the concoction for wounds and skin afflictions. Since then, Agave has had a consistent place in folk medicine remedies for various ailments.
Agave Benefits & Uses
Consumers recently have seen a health-enhancing shift when it comes to natural sweeteners, especially in the last ten years. Concerns about high fructose corn syrup and traditional white sugar have created a great deal of media buzz – and Agave is one of the alternatives often mentioned.
While experts argue as to whether or not Agave and other options are truly more healthful, a few facts are generally undisputed.
Nearly all of the Agave sweeteners are generated from the Blue Agave plant. It’s the center or core of the plant where the syrup is located. Sometimes referred to as “honey water,” this product can be fermented into a tequila base or can then be further processed into other options for consumers.
When the natural elixir is processed, the outcome is often a light brown or dark amber syrup that resembles maple syrup or honey. Many people describe the taste, however, as lighter than those options. The lighter sweet taste has helped Agave evolve into a popular sweetener for tea, nutrition bars, juices and energy drinks.
Table sugar has approximately 40 calories per tablespoon, compared to about 60 calories in the average tablespoon of Agave. But many people feel that Agave is much sweeter…so they use less of it in their recipes.
Aside from the theoretical benefit of using less sweetener if one’s diet, Agave also has small amounts of potassium, magnesium and calcium. While this may not make much difference from a nutritional standpoint, the sweetener is considered to have a low-glycemic index…meaning it is less likely to trigger a rapid rise or fall in blood sugar.
Agave Side Effects
Agave literally is said to mean “noble,” and perhaps the name is appropriate as most people do not encounter side effects when using this sweetener.
However, allergies with all foods are possible. Although somewhat rare, the most commonly reported side effects some people encounter with Agave include nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea. These outcomes seem to occur especially when someone is overusing Agave to a degree a doctor or medical professional would not recommend. Please note that some health practitioners say that Agave was used as a folk remedy for constipation, so the laxative aspect may be categorized as a benefit for some but a curse for others. As with all herbal remedies or health products, consultation of a medical expert familiar with your health history is strongly advised before adding any Agave products into your daily food regimen.
Potential Drug Interactions
People who are following a raw or living vegan diet will often find this sweetener as an ingredient in their recipe books. However, recent high demand for Agave has prompted some manufacturers to blend other sweeteners with Agave, so care should be taken to read labels. Some experts believe that Agave consumptions may be associated with a higher chance of liver disease. Also, some tentative evaluations show increases in homocysteine levels and decreases in insulin sensitivity for those who consume tequila on a daily basis. Consult a personal medical expert to see if Agave may interfere with any prescriptions medications you may be taking.
Agave nectar is generally widely available in both grocery stores and health food stores, often found either next to the honey, maple syrup or in the health food areas of the shelves.