For centuries, Agave Cactus plant has been the source of food, fiber, and ornamentation for the New World natives. Food historians assume that the Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced Agave Cactus plant to Europe. According to ancient Mexican mythology, the Agave Cactus plant is believed to be the incarnation of the "Goddess Mayahuel". Agave Cactus plant are evergreen perennials that belongs to the family Asparagaceae. They are widely grown in the south-western US, Mexico, and central parts of South America. Agave Cactus plant is often nicknamed as the “century plant” as it is a very slow growing species. In warmer places, the plant takes nearly ten years to bloom. It takes approximately 60 years to bloom in colder climates. Nearly each part of the plant - the flowers, stems, roots and nectar can be used by humans. The nectar of the plant known as “Raw Agave” is popularly used as a natural sugar replacement; it is four times sweeter than refined white sugar. Certain species of Agave are commercially cultivated to produce the popular distilled beverage “Tequila”.
How does the Agave Cactus Plant look like?
There are over 200 different types of Agave Cactus plant. Agave americana, Agave angustifolia, Agave attenuata and Agave tequilana are the most commonly grown species. Agave Cactus plant comprises a thick rosette of large fleshy leaves with sharp pointed tip and spiny edges. Mature Agave Cactus plants often reach up to 12 feet in length. The thick, gray-greenish leaves can measure 6 feet in length and 10 inches in width. Each Agave Cactus rosette is monocarpic and blooms only once in the entire lifetime. During the flowering season, an erect stem (mast) appears from the center of the leaf rosette. The tall stem can reach up to 40 feet in height and yields large, tubular, yellow-green flowers. After blooming, the original plant produces many new suckers, pups or baby plants, which later emerge as new plants. The scientific classification of the Agave Cactus plant is:
How is Agave syrup made?
Agave nectar is commercially produced in South africa and Mexico. When the Agave plant is about 7 years old , depending on its maturity anywhere between this 7 year mark to 10 years, the leaves are cut off to reveal a core that is called the "pina". The pina resembles a pineapple and weighs anywhere between 50-100 pounds. The sap from the pina is filtered and slowly heated at a low tempearture. When heat is provided to carbohydrates, they are converted to sugars and you get the agave syrup or nectar. It is considered a raw food since very low temperatures are used to heat this. The color of the nectar depends on how long it has been processed. While the darker nectar has a slightly stronger flavor, the lighter version is mild in flavor and suits people who don't like the taste of honey.
What is the gylcemic index of Agave nectar?
Depending on the manufacturing process of agave nectar the glycemic index value can slightly vary but most of them have a lower glycemic index, varying between 15-27 while sugar has a glycemic index of 65. Most of the sweeteners have a different ratio of fructose to glucose. Agave has a very high fructose content, close to 90% fructose which is called Inulin. When fructose is eaten as part of the fruit it is beneficial to us but when it is extracted as a sweetener, the fiber is lost and it does not have any nutritional value and should be considered only as a sugar. Any form of sugar when taken directly affects the body the same as sugar or HCFS. So though it has a lower glycemic index it should be used sparingly like any other sugar. Another point to note is, at this point here is not one value on glycemic index of Agave nectar as it varies depending on how it is processed. So if you are looking for the value, you should look up the company of the agave nectar and find out from them.
What are the uses of Agave Cactus Plant?
There are many different types of agave plants that are used ot make agave syrup. Blue agave is one of the most popular plant from which agave syrup is produced.
Gluten free food:Agave cactus plant stalks are roasted and processed to produce agave syrup. Agave nectar constitutes both glucose and fructose, like honey. The Agave cactus plant juice is collected, mixed with vegan enzymes, and stored in a temperature-controlled vacuum extractor to eliminate excess moisture. The complex sugar molecules in the sap get transformed to simple sugars. Agave nectar is a perfect sweetener for those suffering from Celiac disease or food allergies. The nectar is gluten-free, vegan and free from common allergens.
Sugar substitute: It can be easily incorporated in diabetic-friendly diet. Agave nectar is widely available in various natural foods stores and grocery-marts. The liquid sweetener can be used as a healthy substitute for honey, maple syrup, brown or white sugar. You can easily cut back the sugar in recipes by one-third when you substitute agave nectar in place of refined sugar and cut back it by one-fifth if you are using agave instead of honey. Select dark Agave nectar when you desire a honey or maple flavor and light Agave nectar when you prefer mild sweetness without any additional flavor.
Commercial uses: Over hundreds of years, the Central American Indians and the Aztecs are using native agave cactus plants to produce an extremely popular fermented beverage known as pulque. In the 16th century, the Spanish invaders performed distillation of the local pulque and produced the first Tequilas. This historic beverage is regarded as the first spirit produced exclusively in North America.
Other uses: The leaves from the Agave Cactus plants are often processed to make fiber. In rural parts of Mexico, young agave leaves are cooked to prepare a bland, filling meal. The agave flowers are also edible, and full of nutrition. Agave cactus plant is found to advantageous in landscaping. This ornamental plant thrives well in low water garden in warmer regions of the world.
What are the health benefits of Agave Cactus Plant?
A tablespoon of dried Agave contains only 51 calories. One ounce (28g) of dried agave powder is enriched with 117 mg of calcium, 0.5mg of iron, 15.4 mg of magnesium, 2.0 mg of phosphorus, 35.6mg of potassium, and 3.9 mg of sodium.
Low-glycemic index: The glycemic index is a unit which denotes how fast any food or drink is digested and released as glucose within the bloodstream. High-glycemic food increases glucose and insulin levels in the blood, induces hunger and store excess fat. Agave nectar or syrup is identified as a low-glycemic food and considered safe for diabetics unlike other sweeteners like honey, high-fructose corn syrup and Maltodextrin. However, anything in excess is not a good thing and too much of Agave nectar will have a negative effect onyour insulin levels and can be a bad thing if you indulge too much.
Facilitate weight loss: Inulin is a type of fructan extracted from the Agave cactus plants. It helps with weight loss by reducing cholesterol and inhibiting the absorption of fat in the intestines.
Probiotic effect: Fructans present in the Agave cactus plant has probiotic impact on the immunity system of the body. These probiotics stimulate the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria like Bifido and Lactobacilli which inhibits the growth of other harmful microorganisms in the gut. Additionally, fructans help to prevent different gastrointestinal ailments such as colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, and Crohn's disease.
Skin benefits: For ages, Aztec Indians in Mexico use Agave Cactus plant extract to heal many types of skin conditions and wounds. It is effective in combating pus-producing bacteria.
What are the side-effects of Agave Cactus Plant?
Enhance risk of heart diseases: Agave syrup is made of fructose which is metabolized into a category of harmful fat known as triglycerides. Studies have found that triglycerides increase the risk of hypertension, LDL cholesterol, weight gain, blood-clotting and heart ailments.
Cause irritable bowel syndrome: Excess consumption of Agave syrup may cause severe abdominal pain due to gas formation and bloating.
Allergies: Individuals allergic to any member of the Agavaceae plant family should strictly avoid agave syrup. Skin rash is the common sign of an allergic reaction.