Agave Nectar – A Vegan Sweetener Panacea?

agaveJane and I are trying to be good vegans. We carefully read labels at the grocery store and avoid all known animal products. We surf the net, read other vegan blogs, and often visit the sites we've chosen to link to as our Vegan Resources. Occasionally, we find something is vegan that we didn't know about previously. And, there are a few issues that are gray in the vegan community, which always merit further reading.

One of these issues is the use of sweeteners. Some eschew refined sugar as most refined sugars are processed using bone char. We choose to follow Vegan Outreach on this topic and allow refined sugar in our diet. However, refined sugar is generally considered unhealthy, and not an environmentally friendly product, so we try to consume alternative sweeteners as well. Jane hates the taste of maple syrup, so that's out. Honey is also often debated as to whether or not it is vegan. We allow honey in our diet, and use Vegan Action to define our approach on this topic. There's also brown rice syrup (which we have in the cupboard, but haven't tried yet), and agave nectar, which we enjoy, but is a little pricey.

Today, as I was surfing, I stumbled across this article in the Chicago Tribune which suggests that agave nectar may not be all that healthy after all. One doctor likes it and says that it doesn't impact blood sugar as much as other sugars, which makes it an ideal sweetener for diabetics. This doctor also says agave nectar contains a bacteria which helps fight colon cancer. Another doctor states that agave nectar is almost all fructose which impacts blood fructose, and that is worse than impacting blood sugar. This doctor claims that fructose interferes with healthy metabolism.

The most alarming information I gleaned from this article, is that the Food and Drug Administration notes that "in the past, agave products may have been 'economically adulterated or misbranded by adding corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup [HFCS].' Chronic shortages of the plant make this a real concern."

The article ends with this warning:

If you use agave:

• Botulism spores can be found in bottled sweeteners originally derived from natural products. Treat it like honey; don't give it to children under age 1.

• Avoid it if you're pregnant; some believe it can cause miscarriages.

• Seek out an agave product that is organic and carries the official USDA seal.

• The FDA says there is no current need for regulatory action but would like to know if there is any literature or other information that shows agave causes adverse effects.

Oi! It seems like in the world of sweeteners, there is no ideal product.

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Comments

  1. Wow, what an eye opener. I use agave as my sweetener at home other than occasionally maple syrup. This article gives me quite a lot to consider.

    I do still eat things with sugar and honey as well, I just don’t buy or cook with them at home. Finding a good and healthy sweetener seems to still be the final frontier.

  2. Annabellsmonkey says:

    Brown rice syrup is great. It is the sweetener I use for almost everything. I use stevia sometimes too, but it has a little bit of a weird stevia taste if you use too much. Converting recipes from sugar to rice syrup can be a little tricky, but it isn’t too difficult. I can really feel the difference when I eat something made with rice syrup versus refined sugar. I hate the blood sugar roller coaster. I hope you get your rice syrup out and start experimenting!

  3. sandy winz says:

    Hi! I have orderd from this place twice and am very pleased to share. They have great kosher organic and natural food products including agave nectar.
    Here is a link http://www.wholeandnatural.com
    Enjoy!!!
    p.s. I used a code try if it works for you bldc08

  4. As with many (all?) things in life, moderation is key here. Although in many cases we can’t really help our sweet tooth (it’s an evolutionary thing!), I know that I (along with many people) are much too addicted to anything that is sweet.

    When I’m going for sweetener, it’s usually the organic, free-trade, non-bone char stuff from Wholesome Sweeteners or whatever brand is in the bulk bins at our co-op. I have a whole slew of sweeteners though: brown rice syrup, brown sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, etc. I only use the agave in places where honey is called for, which usually ends up being in the pumpkin pie I fix for holidays.

  5. Foodeater – Yes, we agree -finding a good and healthy sweetener seems to still be the final frontier! Since Jane really doesn’t like Maple Syrup and Agave Nectar is now a potential problem, we’re going to have to look around. Sat mentions Wholesome Sweeteners as a viable alternative. We’ll have to look for that. I don’t really seem to notice the “sugar high” a lot of people talk about. Perhaps it’s an allergy, some people suffer and some people don’t? Regardless, we know how bad refined sugar is in general and are looking to clean up our eating in that regard.

    Annabell – I defer to the cook! When she breaks out the new ingredients is up to her. But I know she has collected a few recipes that use brown rice syrup. We will, of course, blog about it when we’ve tried it.

    Sat – Yes, we’re definitely addicted. Jane more than me. She would happily eat sweets in place of a meal. Thanks for the tip on the Wholesome Sweeteners. We’ll look for that next time we’re out and about. I’m assuming this is a sugar product?

  6. Thanks for the tip Sandy.

  7. I’m trying to think of the right name for it but I believe the name I’m searching my head for now is malted barley syrup.

    I’m going to have to check that again because we have a recipe that’s DELICIOUS rich dessert using it. (I’ll have to post that on our site one of these days.)

    I haven’t investigated it as far as fructose and sucrose are concerned so if you find it, check the labels.

    Peace, love and understanding.

  8. Hi MoonSage,
    I googled it and came up with Barley Malt Syrup.
    I’d love to see the recipe for the delicious rich dessert.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Thanks for the great post – there are so many hidden dangers in our foods these days. I only recently started using raw agave nectar and have always purchased organic – I hope I don’t get the botulism! I also like brown rice syrup and stevia. I love maple syrup and Manuka honey. I only recently became enlightened about bone char in refined sugar and was horrified. I had already cut back extensively on my use of refined sugar for health reasons but was still using it for baking – I’ve since switched to Wholesome Sweeteners and their range of sugars in that department. I’ve yet to try the barley malt syrup but I’m adding it to the grocery list!

  10. Hi Madcap,
    Frightening, isn’t it. Sometimes it feels like you need a degree in chemistry to interpret what’s on your food labels!
    Jane’s trying to move us away from refined white sugar too, but that requires reeducating our palates. 40+ years of sugar is a hard habit to break.

  11. Hi Lane – I picked up the barley malt syrup today. It’s very nice! Very much like honey, both in taste, texture, and viscosity, with a malt twist. Stronger flavour than agave – I suspect it will be brilliant in baked goods. Thanks to MoonSage for the tip!

  12. Madcap & Moonsage,
    Thanks for the tip/review on barley malt syrup. It’s on my shopping list!
    –Jane

  13. You’re welcome. I’ve used barley malt sugar many times for things that call for something sweet – even as a sweetener for baking bread and pizza dough.

    I’ll try and get that post with the recipe on it on my site soon but I’ve still got a couple of other things I need to post first.

    So many things in the world that need out attention and better yet, action!

    Peac, love and understanding to all.

  14. We do use agave nectar here in the home but we also have honey, molasses, stevia, and even a mexican cane sugar called Zulca (very good and unrefined sugar).

    As with anything, the key in moderation.

  15. Hi LaTara,
    Living in Los Angeles, I would suspect we could find Zulca… We’ll have to keep our eyes open for it when we’re out shopping. We’ve been using brown rice syrup more lately. It’s slightly less sweet, and sometimes that’s better.
    Agreed, moderation is the key.

  16. I also had concerns over Agave and after doing research I am no longer using it. I am worried that it is being promoted as healthy and natural when there maybe serious health problems associated with eating a product so high in fructose.
    My posting is at ThursdaysGirl.wordpress.com
    let me know if you have new info, best wishes ThursdaysGirl

  17. Hi Judith,
    No new info… We have the original container of agave nectar we bought when we switched over to a vegan diet last year. It’s not our sweetener of choice, but we keep it on hand for company. We use honey, and brown rice syrup, and I’ll use maple syrup when it’s added after cooking (Jane doesn’t care for it.)
    We cut out almost all HFCS about 7 years ago. One of us read something about how awful and prevalent it is… It’s even in most ketchup!
    The other thing we cut out is Partially Hydrogenated Oils… It’s interesting to see NYC and a few other cities have banned trans fats.
    Every once in awhile we’ll crave something with one or both of those ingredients and we’ll go ahead and buy it. But usually, we avoid them like the plague.

  18. Try looking for Xagave, it is slightly different from agave and avoids the issues outlined above due to how it is made. Xagave is also processed in a way that it is still considered raw, so it retains many nutrients that the process of making certain kinds of agave removes.

  19. I found that even the most organic agave has gone through some chemical processing at some stage. And if you read from Dr. Mercola, he quoted that studies proved that agave interferes with blood viscosity. And yes, agave is not eco-friendly.

  20. It’s going to bee ending of mine day, however before ending I am reading this great
    piece of writing to improve my know-how.

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