Agave Nectar


 
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Agave Nectar is a natural sweetener taken from the Agave cactus plant. There are many different opinions on whether Agave Nectar is truly raw or not. Therefore, I've contacted several of the companies that produce or distribute the Agave Nectar and asked them to clarify their interpretation or explanation of Agave Nectar - whether it is raw or not, whether it can be made raw or not, and whether they sell it raw or not. 

Below are their responses to my question, "Please tell me the temperature that Agave Nectar is produced at. There is a big discussion right now to determine if Agave Nectar is a raw food or if it is cooked.' Now, you have information straight from the horses' mouths, so you can make up your own mind.

 

Marni Wahquist
Nature's First Law
email: nature@rawfood.com
Michelle asked: Can you tell me what company you get the agave nectar from? We're having a discussion and someone has said that non-bitter agave nectar can not be raw.

Marni responded: I do not know our source for agave nectar.  I have been told specifically by the owners that this agave is not heated over 118 degrees F.  

After a lengthy email exchange with Marni, wherein she would not ("could not") provide the source for Nature's First Law's Agave Nectar, the information below was provided "directly from the producer of our agave nectar."

Certified Organic "RA" Agave Syrup

The Agave plant is native to North America, primarily Southern, Central Mexico up to the Southern United States. Some use Agave syrup in liquors such as Tequila and Mezcal because of its high fermentabilty. Pure Tequila uses only the Blue Agave plant, which is reserved almost solely for the manufacturing of Tequila and is regulated by the Mexican Government.

There are many suppliers of Agave syrup in the market today. Some supply a standard syrup, some organic, kosher, dark or light. We supply a unique, specially processed Agave syrup that is the "rawest" in the market today. What is raw? Raw foods are usually uncooked and preferably organic. Raw foods may be fresh, raw, sun-dried, dehydrated, fermented, soaked and sprouted. Raw foods diets can include vegetables, fruits, sprouts, grains, seeds, nuts, flowers, herbs, oils, sweeteners, spices, meat and fats.

Agave syrup dissolves easily in other liquids, making it easy to use. The light Agave syrup seems best for a multiple of uses. It has a neutral flavor that does not interfere with a food's natural flavors. The darker Agave syrups have a more intense taste that can alter flavors. Agave syrup is an excellent, healthy alternative to refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. It is very low on the glycemic index, making it safe for people monitoring sugar levels. Agave syrup is approximately 1.5 times sweeter than sugar or honey. In recipes, replace sugar or honey using 25% less Agave syrup. There are thousands of recipes and foods that would be well complimented by our Agave syrup including beverages, smoothies, deserts, etc.

Our Agave plants are grown in Southern Mexico, primarily in and around Oaxaca, a region known for its Agave. Agave Americana (augustifolia) and Agave Mapisaga (var. mapisaga) are two of the Agave plant species used in our product. The plants used for our Agave syrup are grown in their natural habitat and allowed to flourish on their own. No herbicides or pesticides are ever used and only a natural fertilizer made from plant remains is used and spread at the base of the Agave plant. The plants are occasionally watered at night during high temperatures to keep them from losing important fluids and nutrients. Agave plants have tiny pores that close during the day because of the heat. Closing the pores allows the plant to retain water. Hay is also used to cover the plants during extreme temperatures to shelter the plant from harmful elements. When the pores reopen in the evening, the plant takes in much need carbon dioxide.

Harvesting of our Agave syrup is done twice daily, once in the early morning when the sun is just rising and again in the early evening when the sun is setting. The syrup is best collected while retaining nutrients and while the plant's pores remain as closed as possible. Planting of younger plants is also done during these early morning or later afternoon periods. The younger plants can be separated and replanted (cloning), allowing the parent to continue and flourish.

An Agave plant reaches maturity at approximately 8 years of age. Most of the Agave syrup in the market today is collected from plants 8 to 10 years of age. Our Agave syrup is collected from plants 10 to 12 years of age. The older plants seem to be best for syrup output, quantity and handling. The average Agave plant used for collecting our syrup reaches one meter in height and one meter in diameter. The Agave plant can produce up to 2,500 liters of syrup in a one-year period or so. The Agave plants are grown and separated by age. This helps keep older plants from taking nutrients from the younger plants. At the age of 4 years or younger, the Agave plant is castrated to keep the plant from flowering. Sugar levels are highest when the Agave plant begins to flower because nutrients are being stored and increased for the plant to seed. However, seeds are never produced because of the castration to the plant. When the Agave plant is allowed to seed, the flower can reach up to 2 meters in height.

One must be extremely careful when coming into contact with the Agave plant. Agave plants typically have long spine like leaves with needles along the edges. The plant can be harmful to the touch. The plant can also produce a toxic liquid from the leaves that when in contact with human skin can cause burning and other irritations.

This part of the plant should not be confused with Agave fruit, which is located in the center of the plant. When harvesting our Agave syrup a small hole or gash is put into the fruit using a small tool called a "Coa-De Jima" or an "Acocote". Our Agave syrup is then siphoned from the fruit. When the syrup is depleted from the fruit, the fruit will begin to gather more syrup. The fruit is typically siphoned twice a day until the fruit will yield no more syrup. The syrup can have a milky like substance from the Agave plant that is later filtered and processed out during the final processing of the syrup. When the Agave fruit will produce no more syrup, the fruit is removed and wrapped in a mesh cloth, smashed and pressed for any syrup that the fruit may still contain. It is then made into a pulp and used as fertilizer. The Agave plant itself can be cloned again. Once the Agave plant has exhausted its supply of syrup, it is then cloned or used as fertilizer for other Agave plants. Seeds are allowed to form on some plants for planting purposes.

The collected Agave syrup is then run through a number of mesh screens to remove and collect any of the plant's fibers and to obtain clarity. Once our Agave syrup is thoroughly filtered, it is poured into large stainless steel vats and slowly heated at low temperatures not to exceed 120 degrees F. The heating is done on traditional adobe style brick stoves located in large bamboo wood-style huts. The fire is fed with wood from an opening found outside the hut. This method prevents cross contamination.

Our Agave syrup is periodically stirred and temperature monitored. This process allows excess water to evaporate and natural enzymes found in the Agave syrup to convert the syrup's carbohydrates into fructose (sugars). This process can take well over 48 hours to complete. Our light Agave syrup is then siphoned from the vat and pumped into 200 to 250 gallon tanks for transportation to the packing facility. If the Agave syrup is allowed to be heated longer, a darker and stronger tasting syrup can be achieved. However, the taste can be too strong and alter the flavors of foods. In times of higher water content, the Agave syrup may be run through a liquid vacuum evaporator. This procedure is rarely ever done for our Agave syrup. When it is done, the temperature of the vacuum is closely monitored and never allowed to reach temperatures over 120 degrees F. Other producers use enzymes (enzyme hydrolyses) to process the Agave syrup, which we do not. Our Agave syrup is bulk packaged at an Organic Certified facility, which packages many other products that use Organic Approved enzymes, which could incidentally come into contact with our product. If at all traceable, the levels would be less than 0.5% of the over all product. We follow the traditional Ancient Aztec / Mayans processing of the Agave syrup as closely as possible. This allows us to keep the integrity of the finished product while also conforming to the National Organic Program (NOP).

Our "Ra Agave Syrup" is typically 70% fructose. (Higher fructose levels can be obtained through further processing, although this can affect the taste of foods and be more costly). Once our Ra Agave Syrup has been tested for its fructose and sucrose levels, it is then tested for microbial count. Once the levels are approved, our syrup is then packed into high-density plastic drums for shipping to our filling facility.

Our Raw Agave Syrup is much like honey in many ways. In order to retain the "raw" aspect of our Agave syrup, the plants are carefully controlled from the planting, fertilizing and collecting of the plants. Collected syrup is closely monitored for cross contamination and monitored for temperature. Because of the long, slow, low temperature heating and high fructose levels of the Agave syrup, it has a very low microbial level like honey. Most Agave syrup has a three-year shelf life. Because of the special and unique processing our Ra Agave Syrup, we recommend a 2 year shelf life and to store it in a dry place at room temperature or refrigerate.

Our Ra Agave Syrup is grown, processed, packed, shipped and bottled by only approved facilities that have obtained Organic and Kosher certification. Because of the growing need for new farms, storage and packing plants, more facilities are currently working toward certification.

 

Craig Gerbore
Madhava Honey
email: craig@madhavahoney.com
Typically, the Agave Nectar available has been produced with temperatures exceeding 120 F, so it cannot be called raw. However, in response to the interest in raw foods, our producer has especially produced for me the agave nectar at temps not exceeding 120 F. Currently, I have been marketing the raw product directly and people have really been enjoying it. It is available in bulk and it really is wonderful. Please let me know if you have any further questions.  

David
Sun Organic Farm
email: sales@SunOrganic.com
It has been heated in processing to approximately 160 F.  

Pearl
Sweet Cactus Farms
email: agave@sweetcactusfarms.com
Our Sweet Cactus Farms agave is not raw.  It is heated to at least 170 degrees.   It is in a polyfructose state when it is taken out of the cactus.  It needs to be heated to turn it into fructose which makes it suitable for diabetics.  

Sabra Van Dolsen
The Colibree Company
email: colibreeinc@earthlink.net

Manuel Cruz
NEKUTLI Organic Agave Syrup
email: mcruz@alior.com
At some point a company called EAT RAW solicited one of the distributors of NEKUTLI Organic Agave Syrup to supply them with "raw" agave syrup. I do not really understand how someone could consider agave syrup raw, it seems to stretch the definition of "raw" to a point that in my personal opinion lacks credibility. Nonetheless, the manufacturers decided to modify their production process in such a way to qualify the syrup as "raw" and they supply a "raw" syrup to this distributor who in turn supplies it to EAT RAW and a few other companies. I do NOT sell this "raw" syrup.

I have been involved in the production and distribution of agave nectar for many years and in fact I introduced the agave syrup to the USA in 1995 at Expo West with a manufacturer's representative from Guadalajara named Humberto Saldana Pico. We coined the term agave nectar.

We produced fructose and inulin syrups at a pilot plant at the University of Guadalajara for many years. Now I am distributing an agave nectar under the brandname NEKUTLI which is produced by a manufacturer that is backed by an extensive network of agricultural cooperatives: Nekutli S.A. de C.V.

If you would like to source the RAW Nekutli agave syrup you can request samples and more information from the manufacturers. I have asked the general manager to respond to your question. He sent me a lengthy explanation and said that he wanted to send it to you directly. It is a little confusing because his English is not perfect but I think what he is trying to say is that the syrup can be evaporated without using high temperatures, that this can be done by controlling the evaporation of liquid by controlling the pressure at which it is vaporized. I am not a food scientist or a chemical engineer and so I have no way of evaluating the explanation but you can have someone with those skills take a look at the statement that the manufacturers are going to send you. The General Manager of Nekutli is Manuel Cruz Gonzalez.

<beginning of Manuel Cruz's note>

You might have noticed that if you spill some water, it will eventually disappear, or in the shower, a lot of vapor arises. It evaporates, although it is not at 100 °C. This misconception arises because in basic education, it is taught that water boils at 100 °C. This is true, but only at a pressure of 1 atm (760 mmHg, milimeters of mercury), which is the pressure at sea level. This is because of a characteristic of all materials called "Vapor Pressure". In common language, this is a measure of the dynamic equilibrium between the liquid phase and the liquid vapor phase that is present in the gas (normally air). The definition of the boiling point, then, comes from the vapor pressure; when a substance's vapor pressure equals the total pressure, it boils.

For  the system water-air, the vapor pressure is tabulated, and you can find it in many references (Perry's Chemical Engineers' Handbook, CRC handbook of chemistry and physics, etc). At the beach, the boiling temperature is 100 °C. In Guadalajara, at 1530 meters above sea level, where the atmospheric pressure is 642 mmHg, water boils at 95.4 °C.
In Hidalgo, where our plant is located, at 2100 meters, it boils at 94 °C, because the pressure is 611 mmHg. As you can see, as the pressure decreases, so does the boiling
point.

However, the explanation above only applies to the system pure water-air. since our system is aguamiel-air, we must take into the account that sugars (a non-volatile solute)
are present in the water. This is addressed by laws called coligative properties, and they say that if you add a non-volatile solute in a solvent, it will increase it's boiling point.
for sugars, a saturated solution will only increase the boiling point by about 3 or 4 °C.

This last phenomena is much less significative than the effect of pressure, So, if we apply vacuum to our evaporator, we can evaporate at any temperature we like (or more precisely, our limit is the vacuum that the pump can deliver). So we are able to evaporate at 40 - 45 °C, by applying a vacuum of aprox. 52 mmHg. We have found that this is the best point to evaporate, both economically and in product quality terms.

Our syrup comes so crystaline because of this, because sugars, when heated, react in what is called the Maillard reaction. This is basically the cross-linking of the sugars among themselves (caramelization). If you put sugar in the stove, it will melt, and then become brown. That's the Maillard reaction.

I hope the above has answered all of your questions. If you have any other doubt, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can find what I have just explained in any freshman chemistry course textbook, in case you want to look at the tables.

<end of Manuel Cruz's note>

Sabra added:
I guess I really don't believe in the "raw" agave syrup for another reason. In the juice of the Agave one finds a great deal of inulin - fructooligosaccharides - agave nectar is processed and regardless of the temperature this is an enzymatic process in which the complex fructose chain is broken into simple monosaccharides: fructose and dextrose (plant glucose). I guess that I associate raw with something that has not been altered in anyway...but that is just my subjective opinion.