10 June 2007

Why Agave Nectar?

Over the past two years, I've been cooking and baking with agave nectar, experimenting with ways to replace all other sweeteners in my diet. I had tried stevia, but really didn't like the flavor at all. Then, there was honey, but it had such a huge affect on my system that I couldn't tolerate much of it at all. Honey almost instantly causes my body and skin to feel very hot. It also affects my mood the way cane sugar does -- a huge, arcing high, then a devastating low. Crying under the table, low.

Prior to going back to trying natural sweeteners, I tried Equal, Splenda and Sweet'n Low. All three left metallic tastes in my mouth, and Splenda had the same affect on me as sugar, but it didn't last as long. Still, not viable options.

So, I went completely sweetener-free for about two years. They were long, difficult years. I missed things like cookies, cake and pie. I had to do something.

I tried a number of different options. First, I tried brown rice syrup. In small amounts every once in a while, I enjoy some frozen Rice Dream (mint carob chip to be exact), but not often because, but it's high on the glycemic index. While I don't get the "hot" feeling, I still experience the mood shift. The same thing happens with barley malt, but I enjoy a barley-malt-sweetened candy once in a while.

While those two liquid sweeteners are used in a great deal of "health food" sweets, they're really not much better than cane sugar. It grinds my gears that "health food" manufacturers try to pull the wool over people's eyes by saying that evaporated cane syrup is any better than plain sugar. It comes from the same place! They just use a different method to extract the sucrose.

So, I discovered agave nectar at a local health food store one day. I asked the owner what he thought of it, since he knows of my dietary restrictions (and musical tastes, but that's for another blog). He recommended it highly and mentioned that I'd need to drop my oven temp and alter the other liquid ingredients in recipes if I were to bake with it.

Before I tried the stuff, I did some preliminary research. Agave falls at 14 on the glycemic index. Now, that's less than half of fructose. Just reading that fact led me to try it straight on pancakes. No mood swing. No wacky feelings at all. I was instantly hooked!

But, like every learning experience, I pushed the envelope. If I ate too much of my own baked goods made with it, I did experience the hot/moody bit. Let me clarify "too much" -- 4 brownies; 10 cookies; 1/4 of a pie. You get the idea. I had to eat a large amount to make the negative effects occur. I don't normally eat that way, so I figured I'd be alright.

Agave nectar is much sweeter than sugar, so I don't always use equal amounts to the recipes I'm altering. However, it's fortunate that agave is sweeter because it's also so much more expensive.

Since I've been keeping this blog, I've signed up to a Google alert on agave nectar. There appears to be a trend forming regarding this sweetener. Increasingly more manufacturers are using it in "raw" foods and in energy bars. I'll bet that we'll be seeing more of it in the news now that obesity and diabetes are the latest epidemics in the United States and agave nectar is safe for diabetics who watch their carbs.

So, in response to my title, why not agave nectar? Except for the high price and cooking challenges (liquid versus dry sweetener), it's ideal for me and other folks who suffer from sugar sensitivities.

Off topic just a little -- I'm still battling this $#@!*&% cold, so when I'm better, I'll be making pie. The summer fruits are filling the shelves, and I'm rarin' to bake!


NiNa* said...

It's great stuff isn't it? Maybe if we all make it more in demand the prices will drop! Here's hoping!

Deb Schiff said...

Sing that one out loud, Sister!