Natural desert sweetener has many benefits
By Lynne Hoss | July 16, 2008
Agave nectar is a new, natural fructose sweetener which is low on the glycemic index. This means that it does not trigger the “sugar rush” and stimulate digestive insulin secretions like other sweeteners do. It is these bodily reactions to sweeteners that are related to problems like diabetes and hypoglycemia. In addition to its delicious taste and low glycemic index, it has several advantages over other sweeteners. For example, as opposed to honey and sugar, it easily mixes not only with hot drinks, but with cold drinks as well, because of its light viscosity and solubility. It also does not crystallize like honey, making it a natural choice for restaurants and coffee bars, as it can sit on a table unaffected for long periods of time, and has a shelf life of one to two years. With a syrup-like texture, it can be used to replace other sweeteners for many uses, including cooking, baking, making ice cream or sorbets, sweetening drinks, cereals or yogurt, and as syrup for pancakes! The nectar is also a moisture retainer, enhancing the freshness of baked goods, and prolonging its shelf life.
The nectar is extracted from the agave plant, with different companies producing the product from different types of agave. One company makes the nectar from the blue agave, the same plant from which tequila is produced. Other companies make nectar from the wild agaves. The type of agave affects the glycemic index to a degree. The nectar has a lower glycemic index than table sugar, honey or maple syrup, according to the University of Sydney. The nectar comes in raw, light, amber and dark grades, with the light nectar having a more delicate, neutral taste, which enhances the flavor of the food. The raw nectar is produced at a lower temperature. The dark nectar has a rich, complex flavor that can be used in a number of ways, ranging from sauces and salad dressings to stews, meat glazes and marinades. The nectars are usually organic and kosher, and are 1.4 times sweeter than sugar, so that you can save calories by using less of it.
Gourmet chefs like to use the nectar in many of the above ways. In salad dressings, vinaigrettes hold better with agave nectar, and don’t get too thick. An online recipe for the “perfect margarita” mixes 6 parts blue agave tequila, 4 parts lime juice, and 1 part agave nectar. With a taste profile described as oaky and woody, the nectar is popular for mesquite-smoked agave glazed meats, mixed with chile peppers in southwestern salads and dressings, brushed on top of nut-crusted meats and fish and more. Agave nectar can be found at national health food store chains.