Agave is a native plant that is found in hot and tropical climate regions like the south-western parts of the United States, Mexico, and South America. This is a perennial plant that is known for its rare life cycle of flowering and then dying off. The Agave plant is also known as the ‘century plant’. This plant is used to produce tequila which is an alcoholic beverage. In addition to that, the Agave syrup, a sweetener obtained from the Agave sap, is used as a substitute for common sugar and is used in many breakfast bowls of cereal for binding.
Agaves are succulent plants with thick fleshy leaves which have a terminal spine that is sharp. The plant has a short stem with leaves that sprout from its root. These type of plant requires very little water for survival and is usually regarded as an ornamental plant.
Agaves grow slowly and flower only once in their lifetime. During the flowering process, the Agave stem grows from the centre of the plant and produces several tubular flowers. When the fruit is fully developed, the plant dies but leaves suckers which then become new plants again.
Although their leaves are similar, Agaves should not be confused with cactus or aloe because they are not related in any way.
Although Agave is known for the production of tequila, it is also used widely as an ingredient in food. The nectar that is produced from Agave is commonly known as ‘honey water’ in the regions that it is cultivated.
The Aztecs from Mexico viewed this liquid as a gift from the gods and used it to flavor some of their drinks and food. Due to its increasing popularity, Agave nectar is slowly becoming the preferred sweetener in many foods.
The Agave nectar, which is also known as the Agave syrup, is mostly manufactured from blue Agaves found in southern Mexico. It is known to do well in the volcanic type of soils.
The Agaves can be found in many sizes and colors with well over 100 species in existence. However, the blue Agave is the most preferred species in the production of the Agave nectar. Other species like Maguey Agave are also used in nectar production.
How Agave nectar is made
Step 1: The leaves of the plant are cut off after about 10 years to expose the core of the plant which is also known as pina. The pina stands out as the main part of the Agave plant.
Step 2: The pina, which looks like a pineapple and weighs about 100 pounds, is then harvested.
Step 3: Sap is then extracted from the pina to make the Agave nectar. The extracted sap is then filtered and heat at low temperatures to break down its carbohydrate content into sugars. It is regarded as raw food because low temperatures are used to break it down.
How it tastes
The Agave nectar tastes like honey although it is not identical to it. It is tastier than honey because it does not have an aftertaste which is found in many sweeteners. There are different varieties of the Agave nectar due to different methods of preparations and plant variety.
However, the most distinguishable types include the dark and dark types. The lighter type undergoes a thorough filtration process and low heating that is suitable and is easily used in many culinary applications. On the other hand, the darker type is not heavily filtered and leaves a few solid particles which provide a powerful type of nectar.
There is no huge difference between the Agave syrup and the Agave nectar. The Agave syrup is a sweetener that occurs naturally and is only comparable to honey. It is extracted from the different species of the Agave plant.
It is highly soluble and is mostly used in smoothies and cocktails. It is a great substitute for honey by most vegans. The syrup is mostly bottled and sold in various shades. It is known to increase its potency when it is stored in dark places.
The Agave syrup is usually produced in Mexico and is available in most supermarkets in the sugar section. It is also possible to order this product online from stockists.
The Agave syrup is mainly used as a topping for pancakes, bread, and cereals. It is also used as a substitute for honey in some recipes such as desserts. The Agave syrup is sweeter than sugar and therefore it is used in little amounts to attain the same taste.
It is also used in sticky muffins and chewy bakes. This syrup is high in fructose content – a damaging form of sugar. It is, therefore, advisable to use small quantities of raw and cheap agave syrup as opposed to the highly processed ones.
Agave plants which are also known as century plants are perennial plants that can live up to 100 years. With sufficient moisture, most Agave plants are able to start booming between 10 to 15 years of age. They are deer-resistant, exotic and drought tolerant plants which have a great garden structure. These plants are natives of Mexico and Southwest US.
Most of the Agave varieties are indoor plants and only a limited number can thrive outdoors. These include the Agave americana and Agave parryi. In summer, Agaves are known to do well when cultivated with organic fertilizers and water.
However, in winter months it is good for them to be cultivated on well-drained soils to guarantee their survival. Potted Agave plants will develop to the size of the container. They should only be kept indoors when the temperatures are below freezing point.
The Agave plant is known for its unique life cycle which is fatalistic in nature. They are known to live and then die and then live again. They usually die after flowering and leave their clones which are in the form of seeds. The dying plant lives again through its offspring. The plant uses seeds from its pods to produce a new plant that is different from the original one.
The plant has evolved through the years and is able to survive in extremely harsh and hostile environments. It produces many seeds that give it a good chance of surviving harsh tropical environments.
Agave vs. sugar
Agave is used as an excellent substitute for sugar in many regions. First and foremost, the agave nectar is a real sugar when compared to an artificial sweetener. It has most of the properties that are associated with many sugars except for the fact that its glycemic index is much lower.
Its inherent properties make it be a good alternative to many natural and processed sweeteners. Some of these sweeteners include brown sugar, white granulated sugar, maple sugar crystals, demerara or turbinado sugar, date sugar, and dehydrated cane sugar.
Its low glycemic index is suitable for people on the slow carb or low carb diets and for loss management programs. Granulated sugar has a glycemic index of about 60 while agave has an index which is under the 30s. Foods that have a glycemic index of below 55 are regarded as low glycemic foods. These are foods which have a minimal capability of stimulating the body’s mechanism to store fat.
Agave nectar is also useful for persons with diabetic conditions. This is because it does not contain a high glycemic index which is off limits for diabetics. Diabetics are usually advised to watch their sugar intake which is possible if they use agave nectar. Although they have carbohydrates, their ability to raise blood sugar levels are minimal. It thus, broadens the dietary options that are available to diabetics.
Some sugars like brown sugar and granulated sugars undergo a filtration process that includes the use of bone char. This is a type of charcoal obtained from animal bones. This type of filtration incorporates animal products which are not suitable for vegans. Most organic products from animals are known to contain harmful contents which can result in diseases such as heart problems and high blood pressure.
The use of Agave nectar, which does not undergo the bone char process, gives many vegans the option of using a healthier type of sugar. It is, therefore, a strictly plant based product that contains all the necessary health benefits that are found in plants.
Agave nectar is high in calories as opposed to white or brown sugar. It is also over 40% sweeter than these sugars and only a small amount of it is needed to have the same effect. Its sweetness has a natural feel to it which is not comparable to any artificial sweeteners in the market. It does not contain artificial chemicals or preservatives which are sometimes harmful to health.
This, therefore, needs some small adjustments to give it the same effect as that of ordinary sugars. This is better than using artificial sugars which are sweet but do not have properties contained in real sugars. Agave nectar has all the properties found in sugars including those of moisture retention, browning, food preservation and softening.
The Agave plant is not only known for its production of Agave syrup and nectar but is also used as a flavor and an alcoholic beverage. This plant is beneficial in many ways and acts as an important substitute for real sugars. It has almost all the qualities of processed sugar and is known to be sweeter than most.
One can use small amounts of Agave nectar to get the same results as those from processed sugars or honey. Its properties are also useful to many diabetic people and vegans who depend on it to offer an alternative to sugar. Since processed sugars have a higher glycemic index, Agave nectar is perceived as the best alternative for sugars due to its low glycemic index. This makes it a much healthier sugar substitute than any other artificial sweetener in the market.
The Agave plant can, therefore, be viewed as a highly beneficial plant which has many uses. It is a plant that is only found in restricted regions in the world but used the world over. Since it is an exotic plant one its availability is only possible from big supermarkets and online sites.