The Awesome Agave
The agave (uh-gah-vay) plant has long been cultivated in hilly, semi-arid soils of Mexico. Its fleshy leaves cover the pineapple-shaped heart of the plant, which contains a sweet sticky juice. Ancient Mexicans considered the plant to be sacred. They believed the liquid from this plant purified the body and soul. When the Spaniards arrived, they took the juices from the agave and fermented them, leading to the drink we now call tequila.
But there is a more interesting use for this historic plant. Agave syrup (or nectar) is about 90% fructose. Only recently has it come in use as a sweetener. It has a low glycemic level and is a delicious and safe alternative to table sugar. Unlike the crystalline form of fructose, which is refined primarily from corn, agave syrup is fructose in its natural form. This nectar does not contain processing chemicals. Even better, because fructose is sweeter than table sugar, less is needed in your recipes. It can be most useful for people who are diabetic, have insulin resistance (Syndrome X), or are simply watching their carbohydrate intake.
Fructose has a low glycemic value. However, according to some experts, if fructose is consumed after eating a large meal that overly raises the blood sugar or with high glycemic foods, it no longer has a low glycemic value. Strangely enough, it will take on the value of the higher glycemic food. So exercise restraint, even with this wonderful sweetener. It is a good policy to eat fructose-based desserts on an empty stomach, in between meals or with other low-glycemic foods. Use it for an occasional treat or for a light touch of sweetness in your dishes.
- This sweetener is sometimes called "nectar" and sometimes called
"syrup". It is the same food.
- The light syrup has a more neutral flavor.
- In recipes, use about 25% less of this nectar than you would use
of table sugar. ¾ cup of agave nectar should equal 1 cup of table
sugar. For most recipes this rule works well.
- When substituting this sweetener in recipes, reduce your liquid
slightly, sometimes as much as 1/3 less.
- Reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees.
- Agave nectar can be combined with Splenda to counter Splenda's aftertaste
and to control the amount of fructose used.
- The glycemic index of agave nectar is low.
- As a food exchange, a one-teaspoon serving of agave nectar equals
a free food. Two servings or two teaspoons equals ½ carbohydrate