Agave is in the succulent plant family and related to Yucca plants. It looks somewhat prickly and although some people think agaves are related to the cactus or aloe vera, they are not. In fact, the agave is related to the amaryllis or the lily and is native to Mexico, but found throughout Central and South America, as well as the southwestern United States.
The agave’s flowers, leaves, stalks, and sap all provide numerous health benefits. For instance, it’s stalks can be roasted to create a sweet molasses, rich in nutrients. Agave nectar promotes healthy stomach bacteria, teas made from its leaves are used as diuretics or to treat constipation, and tinctures treat arthritis. It is even beneficial to diabetics because it has a low glycemic index and can help keep blood sugar levels even.
Agave nectar is a somewhat new product. It first came on the market in the 1990s and many Americans are just now becoming familiar with it. It is suitable for anything that requires a sweetener, but has advantages over sugar or honey. For instance, it is 1.4 times sweeter than sugar, has a long, stable shelf life, and contains just 60 calories to one tablespoon. It can readily be used as a replacement for sugar or honey in coffee, smoothies, or other beverages, and, in baking it gives foods a smooth, silky texture and compliments and defines other flavors.
At your regular grocery store you can find açai juice—a rain forest berry—sweetened with agave juice and under the Bossa Nova brand name. If you want full strength agave nectar or juice you can buy it at health food stores or online. One online product, Madhava Agave Nectar, has the added advantage that it is organically produced. Madhava’s products can be purchased from WildOrganics in its raw form or in flavors, such as amaretto, hazelnut, or vanilla flavoring.