Friday, July 8, 2011



[Oy] vey.

This is how I am feeling about agave.  I think it is possibly the most overrated health food trend yet.  Well... acai is pretty silly too.

Anyway, I wanted to cook "super healthy" for some dinner guests recently, so I was like, maybe I can use agave instead of sugar or honey.

So I went to TJ's, got my cute little bottle of raw (oooooh raw!) blue agave, took it home... and then looked at the honey I had in the cupboard.  (Yes, I have honey.  Please don't get mad at me, vegan police.)

Wait... so the same serving of agave actually has more calories and more sugar?  That doesn't seem particularly "healthy choice"ish...

But I'd heard that agave was "supersweet and you needed to use less of it."  Well, I looked that up, and it seems that while that's true for regular ol' granulated sugar, honey and agave are actually pretty equivalent.  And since this agave is actually sweeter per serving than the honey, even if you used considerably less of it (which it seems like you shouldn't), it still wouldn't be lower sugar than the honey.  Anyway, what does "sweeter" really mean if not "actual amount of sugar"?  And if "sweetness" does just mean "actual amount of sugar," isn't this all sort of like asking what's heavier, a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers?

Ok... but I'd heard that agave is low-glycemic.  Ugh.  These numbers seem to vary a lot from unofficial website to unofficial website to unofficial website.  Are people just pulling these numbers out of their asses?  If it varies so much from website to website, does the smaller difference between agave and other sweeteners actually matter that much?  And anyway, while it would be nice to think you're avoiding blood sugar spikes, shouldn't you maybe just not eat that much sugar, period?

Then, as we fall farther down the rabbit hole, there's fructose.   Even though it sounds like "fruit," fructose doesn't seem to be particularly awesome.  High fructose corn syrup is also mostly fructose (duh).  So is fruit.  So is agave.  So is most sugar, it seems, besides brown rice syrup (maltose), which hasn't been trendy since the superdupermacro hippies found it in the 70s.  And again, these ratios vary incredibly from shitty website to shitty website.  Maybe there's more fructose (in ratio to sucrose or glucose) in agave than in granulated sugar.  I'm not sure.  And I'm no longer sure that I care.

Then, at the bottom, there's my favorite: "raw."  Now, as this blog surely makes clear, I'm totally a fan of minimally-processed foods.  But people can't even seem to agree on how processed agave is.  Just because it's processed at a low temperature--which gives it that enticing "raw" label--doesn't mean it comes right out of a cactus.  In fact, it certainly takes more processing than honey does.

Where is the reliable nutrition information on this question??  For every person who's really excited about agave, there's a naysayer out there with an equally sensational and unconvincing website.  Here are a few interesting ones:

I'm leaning towards the opinion that the agave craze is a load of trendy bunk.  And even if there is some truth to the fact that agave is better than granulated sugar, if not honey--and I respect that many vegans don't want to eat honey--surely the real bottom line is, just don't eat that much sugar.  That includes honey, agave, fruit juice, molasses, etc.  There comes a point when sugar is sugar.  Maybe you metabolize different kinds slightly differently, and yes, every person's body is different, but this is all still literally (and I don't mean this kind of "literally") sugar, and people who market super-sweet foods containing agave, honey, or fruit juice as "sugar free" aren't just assholes, they're also lying.

Now, to maybe take away from the "sugar is sugar" stance, unrefined honey and blackstrap molasses have crazy nutritional value.  Antimicrobial, antioxidant, vitamins and minerals...

...But at the end of the day, I'm going to choose my sweetener by the following criteria:

5) What's already in the recipe I'm using
4) What's cheaper and/or more ethical (i.e., I can get locally made honey for the same price as fair-trade granulated sugar)
3) Whether I'm cooking for someone who has a strong preference
2) The texture I want
1) The flavor I want


sandhiya said...

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janet @ the taste space said...

Agave is definitely controversial and I love your take on it.... and I completely agree that the best agave is no agave at all. Keep all the sugars low! :) Except those in the fruits and veggies, of course. :)