The Agave plant is predominantly grown in South Africa and in Mexico and has been used to produce nectar that is used as a sweetener in the same manner as fructose and xylitol. Health pundits have touted the health benefits of the nectar although the research is inconclusive.
Agave nectar is commercially produced from several different species of Agave, predominantly blue Agave (Agave Tequilana) and Agave Salmiana. The European Union and Mexico came to an agreement that only blue Agave would be used in Tequila production. The product consists of a nectar that is sweeter than honey, has a thinner consistency and flows more freely.
The production of Agave nectar involves cutting leaves from the plant after the plant has aged seven to fourteen years. The juice is then extracted from the core of the agave, called the piña.
The juice is filtered and heated to separate the complex components into simple sugars. The main polysaccharide is called inulin or fructosan and is mostly fructose. This filtered juice is then concentrated to a syrupy liquid, slightly thinner than honey. Its color varies from light- to dark-amber, depending on the degree of processing.
Agave salmiana is processed differently than Agave tequiliana. As the plant develops, it starts to grow a stalk called a quiote. The stalk is cut off before it fully grows, creating a hole in the center of the plant that fills with a liquid called aguamiel. The liquid is collected daily. The complex components of this liquid are broken down into fructose and dextrose.
A United States patent has been developed for a process that uses enzymes derived from the mold Aspergillus niger to break down the Agave polyfructose extract into fructose.
The Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 92% fructose and 8% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. These differences probably reflect variation from one vendor of agave nectar to another.
Agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than sugar and is comparable to fructose, but since it is sweeter it often used as a sugar and fructose substitute. Studies in general have detected no differences in the health impact of Agave nectar compared to fructose or other sweeteners.
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