Sunday, September 13, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Agave Sweetener

     The agave is one of the most useful plants I've ever heard of.  (And the common beliefs that agave is a cactus or else related to aloe, are incorrect, as it is neither.)  Practically every part of it can be used, either for foods/beverages, or else for various household items.  Its flowers are edible.  The nectar from these flowers can be used as a sweetener.  A tea can be made from the leaves, which is thought to be useful medicine against constipation, or for a diuretic.  Its juices can be made into a traditional alcoholic beverage called pulque, or also as a sweetener.  The sap can be fermented into mezcal, or most famously, tequila.  The dried stems can be used as natural razor strops.  The fiber can be made into rope.  The sharp leaf tips are fashioned into awls.  Finally, the dried stalks make good didgeridoos.  So, it appears that if there is an apocalypse, zombie or otherwise, hope you're near an area where there's agave (basically Mexico and parts of the Southwestern U.S.), as basically all your food, tool, and even entertainment needs can be satisfied by this wonderful plant.
     As I've mentioned many times before, I'm not one for cooking, or even doing basic food preparation much beyond telling a waiter or pizza parlor employee my order.  So I don't typically carry around sweeteners like sugar or honey.  (Just thought of one exception--I do carry around some sugar packets for adding to absinthe.)  But when I saw the agave sweetener in the Shaw's grocery, I decided to give it a try, anyway.  It was even some kind of reduced calorie agave, as it only contained 5 calories per teaspoon.  It also billed itself as being non-GMO, organic, vegan (because unlike honey, of course, it's not an animal product), gluten-free, and BPA-free (I assume, and hope this refers to the plastic container that housed it, and not the agave itself).  It was made by Madhava Natural Sweeteners out of Colorado.  Other ingredients included stevia and monk fruit.
     It was, as advertised, very sweet.  I tried some on other foods (crackers, and some granola-type bars) and plain.  It was good.  Also noticeably less viscous than syrup, or honey.
    However, when I looked into it some more, I learned some potentially disturbing things about it.  There are a host of health concerns with agave sweetener.  Most of them hinge on its high fructose content, which is higher even than high fructose corn syrup.  Detractors claim consuming too much can cause fructose malabsorption, hypertriglyceridemia, decreased glucose tolerance, metabolic syndrome, hyperinsulinemia, accelerated uric acid formation, and insulin resistance.  Also, the high triglyceride levels in it are a heart disease risk factor.
     As it turned out, my crew and I switched hotels, so I had to throw the remaining agave out (like 95% of the bottle), because once opened it needs to be kept refridgerated.  But, reading off all those potential health problems it evidently can cause did give me some concern.  So while I enjoyed it just fine as a sweetener, I would also definitely advise prospective customers to go easy on it, especially if they have blood sugar issues.  And part of me is mad at myself for forgetting to try it with absinthe, to see how that tastes.

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