During this Reduce the Refined Sugars week, it’s worth taking a look at some of the newer-on-the-market “natural” sugars. There are many bloggers who have done comprehensive posts on all the natural sugars, and since I haven’t really experimented with most of them, I’ll defer to their expertise (links at the bottom of the post). Agave nectar or syrup deserves special mention, mostly because there is some controversy both about how natural, unprocessed and traditional it is and how safe it is to consume. Is agave bad for you? Are there agave health benefits?
Agave: A Natural Sweetener?
Agave nectar or agave syrup is made from the juices or sap of the agave plant from Mexico, a relative to the yucca in my garden that will not die. The process reminds me of maple syrup, because once the juice is collected from the plant, it is first filtered, then heated to increase the sweetness and make a syrup texture. In maple syrup making, it’s called caramelizing. I’m guessing it’s about the same here.
The process of breaking down the complex sugars into simple sugars is called hydrolyzing, which sent this writer into fits about the unsafe processed food that is agave nectar. However, hydrolyzing is pretty similar to dissolving, and it’s what our bodies would have to do to complex sugars in order to digest them. I’m not convinced it’s evil; that said, the fructose in agave nectar is then made more easily assimilated into our systems. You can read a list of the dangers of too much fructose here.
Is Agave Good or Bad For You?
Agave is deemed as a good, wholesome sweetener by many because it comes from a plant and has a low glycemic index. On the other hand, it’s very high (up to 95%) fructose content can result in some questionable side effects. High fructose corn syrup, by comparison, has 55% fructose. The processing may be done at very high heats, which raw foodists don’t like and can sometimes damage health benefits.
There are always two sides to every coin.
A commenter shared: Actually if you really look into it, there IS raw agave nectar. Just because there is people giving agave nectar a bad rap doesn’t mean we need to not use any at all. There is a lot of bad things said about honey but they are talking about the processed honey not raw. Should all honey be eschewed because of what we hear. Same with agave.
For example, Wild Organics sells a raw agave that is processed at 113 degrees, under the 118 at which enzymes die. In this case, I’m thinking it’s as natural as maple syrup. ???
Here is Nourished Kitchen’s take: When Natural Foods Aren’t Natural. She makes a good point that agave was only discovered/invented in the 1990s, so it’s a far cry from a traditional food. If it had been made in a lab, I would not bother with it because it hadn’t been tested long enough. Therefore, personally I don’t use agave because (a) it’s fairly new and untested and (b) there’s enough controversy to make the premium price not worth my budget.
There are a few other “new” sweeteners, like xylitol and erythritol, both made from corn, I believe.
Related: Xylitol in Gum
Other bloggers talk natural sweeteners:
- The Nourishing Gourmet
- Heavenly Homemakers
- Kelly the Kitchen Kop
- Nourished Kitchen
- Passionate Homemaking
Want to hear something funny? I was trying to make soaked banana cranberry muffins yesterday, and I only had 1/4 cup of white sugar left in the whole house! It’s like Monday Mission karma – if I believed in that sort of thing. 😉