Agave Nectar: The Vegan substitute of Honey

- Bindi Shah

You think of honey and immediately an image of honeycombs and several bees buzzing comes to your mind. The golden looking liquid offered to us by honey marketing companies has its own charm and appeal. However, very often, when we do indulge in the consumption of honey, we don’t go back and think of how the honey is made and what distress we make the bees undergo for meeting our needs.

Research has shown that honeybees fly 55,000 miles and visit 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey. Well, the numbers clearly are magnanimous! As a consumer, sometimes I wonder, what makes us think that we can take away the fruit of the bees’ hard labour, in the process depriving them of their sole food source during cold weather and other times when alternatives are not available. 

Research has also shown that commercial honey makers often cut the wings of the queen bee to prevent her from leaving the hive. Queen bees are also often artificially inseminated to increase the population of bees. In the whole process of raising bees and collecting honey for commercial use, bees are often killed or harmed by haphazard handling. 

What if someone told you that there is a substitute to honey that has a non-animal origin, does not compromise on taste, looks and tastes the same as honey and has a lower glycemic index? Well, there is a good alternate and vegan (plant-based) substitute to honey that has steadily found its place in the natural foods sections across grocery stores over the past two decades. This golden, charming liquid is called Agave Nectar or Agave Syrup. 

As more and more people around the world wake up to the perils of animal cruelty and adopt veganism, we bring fresh, organic agave nectar collected from organic farms to your homes to satisfy your health and nutrition needs. 

Where does agave come from?

The word agave (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) means ‘noble’. The Native Americans, traditionally known to cultivate agave, must have named it this due to the plant’s capacity to live to be 40 years old and grow a flower stalk up to 18 feet tall or more. Now that’s noble in the world of plants!

Agave nectar or agave syrup is most often produced from the Blue Agaves that thrive in the volcanic soils of southern Mexico. The agave plant is native to Mexico and belongs to the cactus family. The Aztecs in Mexico traditionally collected the sap from the center of these plants and boiled it to make thick agave syrup (just like the sap from sugar maples is boiled to make maple syrup). This syrup is used as a sweetener for both foods and liquids like tea, coffee etc.

In Mexico, the nectar made from the plant is known as aguamiel or ‘honey water’. Traditionally, the plant has been used for a variety of culinary and medicinal applications. Even the fibers of the leaves are used to make twine, clothes and shoes. The Aztecs, who were aware of the healing properties of agave, are known to have used a mixture of agave nectar and salt as a dressing for wounds and a balm for skin infections. Agave’s use as a folk remedy persists even today among the tribes of Mexico. 

How is agave nectar made?

To harvest the sap accumulated in the center or core of the agave plant, one has to wait till the plant becomes 7-10 years of age. The leaves of the plant are then cut off revealing the core of the plant called the ‘pina’. When harvested the pina resembles a giant pineapple and weighs anything from 50 to 150 pounds.
To make agave nectar, sap is extracted from the pina, filtered and heated at a low temperature, which purifies the sap and converts it into a thick, consistent syrup. Darker and lighter varieties of agave nectar are made from the same plants. The agave nectar served to us on the table contains fructose while what naturally occurs in agave is ‘inulin’. This inulin is converted into fructose (a form of sugar) through either an enzymatic or thermal process. The taste of agave nectar is comparable to honey. 

Health benefits of agave

The USP of agave is that in comparison to other sweeteners it has a low glycemic index. What is a glycemic index of a food? Well, the glycemic index is a way of measuring the relative impact of foods on blood sugar levels. Foods with a high glycemic index often have easily digestible carbohydrates – this simply means that they have carbohydrates that the body can easily convert into sugar. A lot of starchy and sugary foods fall into this category. These foods are more likely to cause a quick rise in blood sugar levels of the body as they lead to a sugar release in the system. 

Foods with a low glycemic index on the other hand don’t cause a sharp rise or fall in blood sugar. Agave is known to have a desirable or low glycemic index, leading it to find a place among health foods. Diabetics though, like all other sweeteners, should limit the use of agave. For vegans, on the other hand, agave is a great substitute for honey!

While cooking, agave can be seamlessly used as a substitute for sugar. As it is sweeter than sugar, use about 1/3 cup of agave nectar for every one cup of sugar called for in recipes. Also, as it is in liquid form, adjust the other liquid ingredients accordingly. 

The inulin that occurs in agave is a type of fructan or fiber that has many health benefits. As per some studies, inulin is considered to be effective in weight loss because of its low impact on blood sugar and its ability to increase satiety and decrease appetite. According to Dr Ray Sahelian, author of The Stevia Cookbook, agave also contains saponins that have anti-inflammatory and immune-system boosting properties. Thus, the health benefits of agave are varied.

Are you ready to embrace agave yet?
Nutrisutras brings to you organic, USDA certified agave nectar produced in small batches in Chicago. 
Come, live the green, organic way and adopt agave into your diet!