Monday, June 11, 2012

Agave Syrup: A Gift From The Gods!


Agave syrup is the nectar extracted from the plant agave, a succulent plant related to the yucca and lily. Agave has Mexican origins, but is also native to the southern and western United States and central and tropical South America. 
It has been used for centuries, first by the Aztecs, who considered the plant a gift from the gods and related it to Mayahuel, the goddess of fertility, pulque (a type of alcoholic beverage) and agave and is generally depicted as a woman with agave branches. The nectar from the agave plant became a ritual beverage and a ceremonial offer to the gods. The Aztec people believed that the elixir made from the plant was meant to soothe the soul of people who lost loved ones and they also used the liquid from the core of the plant to flavor foods and drinks. There are more than 400 species of agave but the best nectars are produced from 100% Blue Agave, also known as Agave Tequilana and, as the name denotes, it is also the specific variety of agave from which tequila is made.

 Agave syrup, known in Mexico as “aguamiel” (honey-water), is a natural sweetener and in the past few years it has become a worldwide “health trend” as a substitute for other sweeteners. It is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar, it has a very discreet flavor (the light-coloured varieties) and it’s more liquid than honey, which means it dissolves easily, so, for me, it’s really the best sweetener for culinary use.
Agave nectars are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties. The darker the syrup, the stronger the flavor (so in most recipes it’s best to use the light-coloured
milder type). It’s important to note that many brands of agave nectar do undergo some commercial processing before they're distributed to consumers, so it is best to buy only certified organic agave syrup.
You can use it as a sweetener in cold drinks like iced tea, almond milk, fresh lemonade, smoothies and juices even in cocktails! Also use it in tea or coffee, add it to granola, or use it as a topping over yoghurt or ice cream. I replace sugar with agave syrup in desserts, cakes and cookies. I love it in salad dressings and sauces and use it a lot in raw desserts and especially in the chocolates I make, because the taste is milder than honey or maple syrup and it’s got the right consistency to blend well.

Here is a list of benefits of agave syrup:

•    It has a low glycemic index.
This means that when consumed, it won't cause a sharp rise or fall in blood sugar and is appropriate for type II diabetis.
Here is a list of sweeteners and corresponding glycemic values. The higher the value, the bigger the impact on blood sugar. 

Glycemic Values
Organic agave nectar 27
Fructose (fruit sugar) 32
Honey 83
High fructose corn syrup 89
Sugar 92
Glucose 137 

•    It has anti-inflammatory and immune system boosting properties.
Agave syrup contains saponins, which are also found in quinoa and many plant roots, including ginseng. Saponins have anti-inflammatory and immune system-boosting properties, including antimicrobial capability. In fact, the Aztecs used agave syrup to treat wounds because of its antibacterial properties. 

•    It is effective in weight-loss.
 It contains fructans (a type of fiber) called inulins. Studies suggest that inulin can be effective in weight loss because of its low impact on blood sugar and its ability to increase satiety and decrease appetite. However, agave syrup has more calories than sugar so you shouldn’t eat large quantities of it. 

•    It is effective in lowering cholesterol (due to its content of inulin).
•    It increases the absorption of nutrients, such as isoflavones, calcium and magnesium (due to its content of inulin). 

•    It can be effective in treating colon diseases such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease.
•    It is a great, safe sweetener for children.

It is 100% natural and contains about 90% fructose, the same natural sweetener found in most fruit.
•    It is often recommended for anti-candida yeast diets. 

•    It is a great substitute of sugar. 
It has a lighter texture and a milder flavor than honey or maple syrup. This makes it more flexible and can be adapted in most recipes. Since agave syrup is sweeter than sugar, you should always use a bit less than the quantity of sugar given in recipes.

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