I was recently in a restaurant that prided itself on being all organic, gluten and soy free. The food was delicious and while I was waiting at the counter I noticed a bottle of “Wholesome Organic Agave Nectar” that I assumed they used instead of cane sugars. Have you ever wondered what agave nectar is and why it’s the sweetener of choice in so many health conscious stores? I found a great write up about it on the Weston-Price Foundation website that I’ll summarize here.
Agave is a succulent that chiefly grows in Mexico and the southwest. The plant at one time was traditionally used by native Americans to create a mildly alcoholic beverage known as pulque. This drink first appeared on stone carvings in Mexico around 200 A.D. and is still consumed in some rural areas of central and south America. They also made a traditional sweetener from the agave sap or juice called miel de agave by simply boiling it for several hours. But, as one agave seller explains, the agave nectar purchased in stores is neither of these traditional foods: “Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed during the 1990’s.
Agave “nectar” that is in stores today is not produced form the sap of the plant as the name implies. It is made form the root bulb which consists primarily of starch and a complex carbohydrate called inulin. According to Russ Bianchi, Managing Director and CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc., a globally recognized food and beverage development company, agave “nectar” and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) “are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes.
They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5846333/fulltext.html The result is a high level of highly refined fructose in the remaining syrup, along with some remaining inulin. Even though the starch in agave goes through the same process as HFCS, it is not required by law to be named “High Fructose Agave Syrup”, which is exactly what it is.
So what’s the difference between the light and amber colors sold in the stores? According to Mr. Bianchi: “Due to poor quality control in the agave processing plants in Mexico, sometimes the fructose gets burned after being heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, thus creating a darker, or amber color.” However, the labels create the impression of an artisan product-like light or amber beer.
Like HFCS, agave syrup is a man-made sweetener, and like all man-made foods, should be completely avoided. While high fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood glucose levels, the fructose in it may cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity. For the large majority of people who are addicted to sugar, switching to agave syrup instead of cane sugar is the equivalent of an alcoholic switching to wine because he drinks too much beer.