I have used agave nectar in the past and still occasionally use it in place of honey or maple syrup. That is, until my sister recently shared with me some little known facts about agave nectar. Perhaps they are not little known at all and most of the free world has already been privy to this information, but this was certainly the first time I’d heard agave nectar compared to High Fructose Corn Syrup! Not exactly something I like to hear about products that I use. Naturally, I had to do some research. I’ll share with you some information I found, and please feel free to share any additional findings in the comments section.
In an article posted on the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website, Ramiel Nagel and Sally Fallon Morell wrote: “Agave nectar is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-like, root bulb. The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules. Technically a highly indigestible fiber, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave. The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into nectar is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS. The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.”
So take that as you will. It appears that most agave nectar is neither “natural” nor “raw”. When I first began using agave syrup, I conjured up images of the stuff being “boiled down” like the maple syrup of my childhood. I guess I thought that the plant had been “tapped” and consequently harvested in the same manner as the maple trees on my family’s property. Instead, it seems that most agave is really no different from any other refined sugar on the market. Bummer.
I did find some evidence pointing to a discrepancy in fructose levels depending on the temperature at which the syrup was processed. Roger Clemens, a professor at USC and spokesman for the Institute of Food Technologists, whose research has focused on functional foods, food processing and nutrition says that such a high fructose content isn’t typical of all agave products. “Depending on how the syrup is processed, it may or may not contain more fructose”. If you can find truly raw agave (it’s considered raw if it was not processed above 118 degrees farenheit) it seems like a great alternative to other refined sugars.
I found Ohgave raw agave at my local Whole Foods and I’ve been using that here and there. As I mentioned above, I’d love to hear some feedback and any other relevant findings on agave. It seems to be a sticky issue (internal dialogue: I wonder if anyone else will find that as funny as I do).