07 December 2008

Madhava's Craig Gerbore Responds to Agave Nectar Controversy Here

For the past few weeks, I've had the pleasure of corresponding with Madhava Agave Nectar's President, Craig Gerbore. Unfortunately, our conversations came about because there are a number of articles out on the 'net that are factually untrue. I contacted the company in order to find out 1. if Madhava was crafting a response to the rumors, and 2. exactly what is true/untrue. I'm very glad I did because Mr. Gerbore contacted me himself and provided me with a hefty bit of information which clears up much of the mess.

The whole thing is a bit (ehem, pardon the pun), sticky. If I link to the original, highly controversial and factually incorrect article published at NaturalNews.com, I feel that I'd be promoting the circulation of the errant piece. However, in order for you, my kind and lovely readers, to truly understand how this discussion came about, you should see the article that spawned this action. So, open up a new window when you click on this link, so you can compare Mr. Gerbore's response below with the original. It's eye-opening, to say the least.

One last thing before I share Mr. Gerbore's response. As a journalist and a professional editor who has worked for some top publications in their fields, I'm pretty disgusted with the NaturalNews's editor for even publishing such a patently one-sided story. Truly yellow journalism at its smarmiest.

That said, here is Mr. Gerbore's response completely unedited by me:

Agave Nectar: Hold on now…
Response to Rami Nagel’s article
By Craig Gerbore, President of Madhava

In response, I must first point out that Mr. Nagel’s article is based on the view of a sole individual, Russ Bianchi. I suppose we should thank Mr. Bianchi for pointing out some issues that may have contributed to Iidea’s (the initial manufacturer of blue agave nectar) demise from the market, however I want to be clear, this is not about Madhava or our agave nectar. Once a dominant supplier, as of this past summer Iidea is no longer a major supplier in the agave syrup business. The distributors using them as a supplier have quietly switched to newly formed blue agave companies for their supply. Madhava has always worked exclusively with Nekutli, the producer of agave nectar from the agave salmiana, a very different species of the agave.

However, there is no mention of our agave nectar from salmiana in the article, nor of the differences in the plant, the collection and production of our product. So, the author has blurred the line with his all encompassing attack on blue agave nectar, by his failure to present complete information on the subject of agave nectars. For what purpose was this article written? If it were to educate the public, I think it would include all the information available. With the errors and misstatements and half-truths, I don’t think this article is about education, it is an all out shotgun attack.

I believe Mr. Bianchi, presented as the sole authority on agave nectar, was initially introduced to Iidea’s blue agave syrup product on their entry to the market in the late 90’s. At that time, Iidea was promoting a 90% fructose agave syrup. This is what I believe Mr. Bianchi is referring to. Unfortunately, he ignores the fact that this is not the agave sold on the market today, nor is it representative of Madhava’s product. In fact Mr. Bianchi has never even acknowledged the existence of our agave nectar from the salmiana variety. So, all his comments are apparently based on his experience with Iidea’s product, but I find ourselves caught in the blast.

In their zestful attack against the blue agave syrup he was introduced to initially, Mr.’s Bianchi and Nagel have also made inaccurate comments which reflect on agave nectar generally. As such, I take issue with several of their statements and claims and want to clarify some things as regards Madhava’s Agave Nectar from agave salmiana.

Their discussion of the processing of agave nectar is in no way reflective of how Madhava’s agave nectar is produced. There are three ways to convert complex sugars into a simple sugar sweetener such as agave syrup. It can be done thermally, chemically, or enzymatically as ours is. There are no chemicals whatsoever involved in the production of Madhava’s agave nectar from agave salmiana, nor is it cooked. Our agave is subject only to low temperatures during the evaporation of excess water from the juice.

The author states “The principal constituent of the agave is starch, such as what is found in corn or rice.”

This statement, which is the foundation of much of their argument comparing agave nectar to corn syrup, has no basis in scientific fact, THERE IS NO STARCH IN THE AGAVE.

How can the author and his source be so mistaken on this statement on which he bases his attack?

All plants store energy in one of two ways, as starches or fructans. All agave plants create fructans as their energy storing means.

So, agave plants have fructans, not starch. From Wikipedia: Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants. They belong to a class of fibers know as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and it typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants which synthesize and store inulin do not store other materials such as starch.

There is no starch in either species of agave, and agave nectar is not from starch as the author and Mr. Bianchi claim. They have tried very hard to propagandize the public with a false fact, either by design, or ignorance, for which there would be no excuse.

Such an error of fact certainly casts doubt on the validity of the rest of Nagel’s article, as the lack of depth of his research has to be apparent to all. Really, he is just regurgitating the singular views of Mr. Bianchi.

I personally spoke with the author during his “research”, as did at least one other in the industry. He chose not to include one word of the information given to him by us, which I will repeat below, and failed to make any distinction between Madhava’s Nekutli agave nectar from salmiana and that from the blue agave plant. He only mentions blue agave. The plants differ, the locations differ, the methods and production differ greatly. The information we gave him did not fit his purpose and so was omitted in favor of a generalized attack.

Madhava’s source is exclusively agave salmiana. If you haven’t already reviewed our site at www.madhavasagave.com , you will find background information there. Briefly though, the native people supplying the juice collect it from the live plant, by hand, twice daily. There is no heat involved in the removal. The juice is immediately brought to the facility to remove the excess water as it will ferment rapidly if left standing. It is during the removal of the moisture that the only heat is applied. The juice is evaporated and moisture removed in a vacuum evaporator. The vacuum enables the moisture to be withdrawn at low temperatures. The temp is closely controlled. Subsequently, our agave is handled and packaged at room temperatures. No other heat is applied. And, rather than convert the complex sugars of the juice thermally, we use gentle enzymatic action. Just as a bee introduces an enzyme to flower nectar to make honey, we introduce an natural organic vegan enzyme for the same purpose. The technical term for the conversion of complex sugars into their simple sugar components is hydrolysis. Inulin is a fructan which is hydrolyzed into the simple sugars composing agave nectar, fructose and glucose. Honey is composed of the same simple sugars.

The blue agave plant is harvested and the blue agave nectar is produced by a completely different method. I will have to leave it to the blue agave nectar sellers to comment on the production themselves. While I know of it, I have not witnessed it as I have Nekutli’s. Unlike the author, I won’t comment publicly on something I cannot verify.

To clarify further on another claim, “Agave Nectar as a final product is mostly chemically refined fructose”. As regards Madhava’s agave nectar, there are no chemicals involved in our production whatsoever. The sugars in our agave nectar come from the breakdown of the inulin molecule through the introduction of the enzyme to break apart that molecule. It is in no way chemically refined, there are no chemicals involved in any part of the production or packaging process. Our agave nectar is refined only in as much as the excess moisture is removed from the juice of the plant.

“HFCS is made with GM enzymes”. Bianchi’s states “they (agave and corn syrup) are indeed made the same way” This is another false assertion as regards Madhava’s agave nectar at least. Our agave nectar is certainly and clearly not made the same way as corn syrup. There is no starch in our agave. There are no chemicals, no refinement beyond the evaporation of water. And, there are no GMO’s whatsoever. The agave salmiana has never been subject to this and the enzyme is a natural, non GM organic, vegan enzyme.

Other points regarding fructose apply to sugars in general and are a consumption, or overconsumption issue. Certainly consuming large amounts of sweeteners of any kind will be detrimental to one’s health. Suggesting fructose could cause health issues when concentrated amounts are eaten is a statement which should really apply to the overconsumption issue. The information the author links to agave nectar is the result of megadose testing of pure clinical fructose. Not the same thing as normal daily use of agave nectar in the course of our meals.

The antisweetener advocates just have to admit that it is the overconsumption of sugars that is the problem. Used in moderation, sugars serve a purpose, to make other foods and beverages more palatable. Imagine a world without sweeteners if you can. Affinity for sweet taste is a human trait that most want to satisfy. For those who use sweeteners, there are limited choices available and many choose agave for its particular attributes. It is a good choice. Madhava Agave’s neutral flavor suits the purpose. It is in fact low glycemic, organically certified and non allergenic. Many with diabetes and other special diets find it suitable for their use where other sweeteners are not. It’s easy to use and you can use less.

And, we guarantee the purity of our product. Attached is a letter from the CEO of Nekutli stating this guarantee that Nekutli agave syrup is pure and unadulterated, from the natural juice of agave salmiana.

While it remains up to the individual to maintain balance in their diet and monitor their overall consumption of sweets, Nekutli/Madhava’s Agave Nectar does have advantages over other sweeteners and that is why it has become so popular and
received so much attention today.

I think the information I have brought to light here clearly contradicts the claims contained in Rami Nagel’s article. Thank you for your consideration.

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the clarification of this issue because I regularly use agave nectar, especially the Madhava brand. It's good to know a company president who not only stands behind his product, but who has the class to respond directly to a question from a customer.

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about this issue since I started to see "anti-agave" articles on the Net. In particular, I wondered why all the diabetics who use agave regularly weren't getting worse if the agave was, indeed, the same as HFCS. We as consumers have no way to know whether the claims (on either side) are true or not, except as we react to a particular food. So far, agave seems to be a good choice for people with blood sugar imbalances--no other natural sweetener can say that.

Anonymous said...

that was very comprehensive! I've seen people talking poorly about agave before but never understood where all of the backlash was from. thanks for sharing.

Erndog said...

Wonderful Deb! So happy to read his response...as I've got a nice big gallon jug of his product in my pantry! :-)

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks for your comments, Ricki, Cheryl, and Ern. I've let Craig know that comments are starting to come in on his response.

As always, I'm grateful to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Ali said...

Deb - Thanks so much for this post. I really hadn't heard anything negative about agave nectar, but have become a huge fan of the Madhava product just recently. I am glad to hear this is a solid product that I can feel good about using! Ali

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks for stopping by, Ali. I feel the same way. Good luck in your quest and best health wishes to your family.

Amy said...

Deb, thank you for sharing this with us. I really appreciate both you and Craig taking the time to provide this information to us loyal agave users.

Deb Schiff said...

You are most welcome, Amy. Thanks for visiting and for leaving your comment above.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of this before visiting your site!
kudos to Madhava. I'm sticking (ha) with it.
thanks for the heads-up, Deb! and also for your comments and support and awesomeness at large.

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks, Celine. You're super-awesome yourself!

Rachel said...

I had heard little things here and there alluding to the fact that agave wasn't as healthy as we all had thought. But, after reading this article, I'm convinced that it is still my sweetener of choice.

Typically, I have been a fan of NaturalNews.com articles, but I guess I need to be more cautious when I read their articles from now on. Thanks for the info! I'll let all the twitter folks know that agave is still numero uno:)

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks, Rachel!

BT said...

Hi Deb,

Thank you very much for posting this synopsis of the recent agave controversy. We've linked your page to our site, http://www.braintoniq.com/questions.php, because it's the best Cliffs Notes version of the issues. Our organic drink, Brain Toniq, uses the same agave source (Nekutli company) that Madhava uses, for the same reasons that Craig points out.

If I could correct just one thing in the world, it would be to teach people how to not overreact when presented with an opinion. Rami Nagel's original article was so filled with logical holes, and yet they were overlooked by so many sites that passed it on as truth.

Thanks again for presenting Craig's response and for your website.

Scott Ohlgren
Owner, Brain Toniq
303 530-4533

Deb Schiff said...

Thank YOU, Scott. I'm grateful for the opportunity.

Lauren said...

Love all the delicious looking photos here!

Agave is low glycemic because it is metabolized by the liver. Fatty liver disease is becoming so prevalent these days due to high fructose corn syrup. Agave has about the same fructose content (maybe even more) as high fructose corn syrup, so no matter which way it's processed (heated, without heat, enzymatically), you should certainly not be eating more than a tablespoon per day for optimal health. It is all about limiting consumption of sweetener as the man said in the letter, but we all know that.

cook4seasons said...

I have been following the agave concerns for a few months now, as it was my sweetener of choice for so long for its low GI. Now I am on the Specific Carb Diet, and have been instructed not to use agave due to its affects on the liver. Sally Fallon opts for more natural sweeteners - raw honey and maple syrup - in small doses, and that reinforces my belief whole foods are always best. In small amounts, of course;-)
Also - I'd love to subscribe to your site but cannot find the source...? Thanks for your good work.

Deb Schiff said...

Hi Karen,

First things first, the easiest way to subscribe is to enter my URL into your reader. I use Google reader, so it's pretty seamless. However, I will add an RSS subscribe button later today since you make a good point about my not having one.

OK, I'm not sure what affects agave has on the liver in those who use it sparingly. I guess that's Craig's take-home message, as well as mine. Like anything, small doses are fine (unless you have allergies. I haven't read of any large-scale studies on the affects of agave nectar on the liver, so I'm not sure where people are getting their facts.

Madhava's agave, especially the raw version, isn't all that processed (see Craig's explanation above). But, feel free to eat whatever you desire.

My main concern is that there is a lot of misinformation perpetuated by uninformed people on the 'net. While I am hardly the agave nectar police (nor do I wish to be), I try to do my part to educate people with factual information, not fiction, nor rumors. Also, as someone with a professional writing history, I was always told to go straight to the source. Hence, Craig's piece above.

Just for the skeptics out there, I had asked Craig if they use a public relations agency or had someone in house. He told me that they don't on both counts. So, this is the information coming straight from the horse's mouth, as it were.

Thanks for your inquiry and good luck on your diet.

Judy said...

Read this with interest. I found that subbing Madhava for honey does not work -- the texture of the baked good is altered to a more chewy one. I'm not completely sold on agave nectar, but will keep an open mind. And I'll come back to your blog to find more recipes using it.

Deb Schiff said...

Hi Judy,
I'm not sure how you're getting a chewy result, but I've found that I can substitute agave nearly 1:1 in honey recipes (except I tend to use a little less since it's so much sweeter). You might try using a little more baking soda to get more lift.
Thanks for stopping by.

April said...

Hi - Thanks for posting this article. It was very informative. I have changed our sweeteners to agave and honey and was still uneasy about Agave. I feel better using this product and as he stated, over consumption of any sweetener (agave included) is not good at all.

Scott Shell said...

hey there,,,i too was inspired to compare these 2 articles,,,i went about it by dissecting the original article,,,quite a fascinating example of disinformation


Deb Schiff said...

Thanks, Antonio. I visited your blog and recommend that you include the full citations for the materials you quoted. I've been practicing that for quite some time and have been asking those who use content from my writings to do the same -- especially since they are protected by copyright.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article, I have a bottle of madhava nectar beside me that I was about to throw out before reading this. I'm a little annoyed at naturalnews at the moment! Again, thanks.

Harriet said...

I have been concerned,since I read that agave was worse than high fructose. I stoooed.using white sugar & changed to Madhave Blue & have b=n very satisfied until that article.. I called the 800 nbr on the bottle & the representative patiently explained everything just like the Co owner did..she even offered me coupons for next purchase. It's great to have this kind of audience to discuss these issues..

patricia said...

Thanks, Deb, for researching Madhava agave. I used agave when it first came out and then stopped when the controversy began. Today I'd purchased some Madhava raw agave and came home to learn about it, after the fact. Was relieved to learn more about Madhava here. There is so much variation on each and every product on the market. The fact that Madhava does NOT have a public relations firm settled the issue for me. :) I'm allergic to public relations. Thanks to you, I just went to the kitchen and opened the bottle.