Friday, January 22, 2010

product may stay, I guess: agave nectar

Agave nectar has been getting a lot of bad press recently, and I didn't know how much of the criticism was sound, because I had neglected to do adequate research when it came on the market. I failed you, gentle readers! I apologize for my lapse in judgment. From my conversation with Wholesome Sweeteners--the company that manufactures the brand of agave I use--and from the limited information I was able to find on the processing of both agave nectar and corn syrup, here is what I can tell you (and I am way simplifying this):

I ignorantly thought that agave nectar was sap from the fleshy leaves of the agave plant (like aloe vera gel, only sweet instead of . . . whatever aloe vera gel tastes like). The agave nectar I use comes from the Agave tequiliana plant. Starchy juice is expressed from the core, filtered, and heated to turn the complex sugars into simple sugars, and becomes syrupy. The syrup has trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium in it. This does not hold true for agave nectar that comes from other varieties of the Agave species.

From what I can discover, high-fructose corn syrup is even more highly processed and contains no trace minerals. I try to skew our family's diet toward the less-processed side of the spectrum, so although I feel like the packaging is misleading--imagine that!--I would put agave nectar somewhere below honey and above HFCS (as Michael Pollan would tell us, if it has a label, it's probably not food).

Sugar is sugar, and moderation is important, of course, and we're not going to get into sketchy propagation of the blue agave plant for commercial use compared with corn's monocultural global domination and the effect of each industry on biodiversity. Here's my verdict: if it's something you'd ordinarily use corn syrup for, then agave nectar is, in my extremely uninformed opinion, a reasonable substitute. It's sweeter, though, and your agave marshmallows will give you a headache if you swap it 1:1. Speaking from experience.


All8 said...

My mom likes Agave, I haven't tried it, so your info is good to know. I don't really use corn syrup, but it is in everything. Sigh.