Demand for natural sweeteners to replace refined white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is on the rise. Alternatives like agave syrup have taken front stage.  There are more than 200 types of agave plants. Agave syrup and another sweetener called insulin are only made from the sap of the Weber blue agave plant native from Mexico. A different process with the same variety of agave is followed to obtain tequila, Mexico’s national alcoholic drink. The blue agave syrup is a versatile product with optimal sensory properties compared to other sweeteners. It contains the same calories as white sugar, but since it is 1.3 times sweeter, less is required. Also, agave syrup has a low glycemic index, usually between 25 and 50. The lower the number, the slower it is converted to glucose, and the less impact it has upon insulin levels and subsequent fat storage.

Food manufacturers and distributors willing to offer consumers a high quality natural sweetener without the health risks related to conventional sugar expect a product with similar or better taste when preparing foods. How could a buyer recognize a high quality agave? Which properties does it need to show?

Increased demand for agave syrup for the export market has been exponential, especially in the last three years, says Leon Cardenas laboratory manager at the processing plant at Bio Agaves de la Costa. ”This has triggered growing industrial production, seeking to meet market needs.

“The original companies that took part in the development of agave syrup established a standard to define the desirable parameters of this product expressed in the norm NOM-FF-110-SCFI-2008”, says Cardenas. Pure agave nectar contains nothing more than fructose with a proportionally smaller amount of glucose. Other sugars such as sucrose (table sugar), maltose, dextrose, mannitol, maltodextrose, molassess and starch should not be present in the finished agave nectar.

There are at least six tips a buyer should consider when sourcing for a good 100% Blue Agave Syrup:

1. Low glycemic index (GI = 17) Low-glycemic foods can be very useful in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and for a healthier diet and nutrition. Agave is an alternative product in those regimes where glucose tolerance is compromised. If consumed in moderation this syrup is an alternative natural sweetener. An index below 55 is defined as low glycemic, and considered diabetic friendly. Anyone with diabetes should still seek medical supervision.

2. Low level of glucose, called dextrose in the food industry. A good agave should never exceed 15% on solid basis. There are companies that have developed even lower levels (below 3%). In verifying this information it is important to request that the vendor provide a chromatographic analysis, which identifies the levels of sugars.

3. Sensory characteristics Enhancer: agave intensifies the flavours of other foods such as fruits and nectar; Exceptional flavour: the main sensory characteristic of agave syrup is its unique sweet flavour with smooth notes specific to the plant; Mild odour: Agave has a very mild scent that does not interfere when mixed with other ingredients; Crystal color: agave provides a wide range in color from almost colorless to a dark brown, all visually appealing and with remarkable brightness. Filtering determines the blue agave nectars flavour and color.

4. Presence of prebiotic substances

In addition to obtaining fructose in the processing of pure agave syrup there are traces of fructooligosaccharides commonly known as FOS detected. These are beneficial to health as they have a proven prebiotic function.

5. Commitment to avoid the presence of toxic substances in organic syrups.

The organic seal of certification guarantees that the final product has no pesticide residue applied to the agave plant during cultivation. All 100% Agave Weber receives a certificate of authenticity.

6. Product Reliability

A 100% Agave Blue (tequilana Weber) must meet the requirement of at least 74 Brix, says the NOM-FF-10-SCFI-2008.

Agave syrup does not need preservatives, stabilizers or any other additional substance.  If a brand offers agave with other flavours or dyes they must be natural, approved by the Ministry of Health and clearly identified on the product label. Raw Agave Nectar is produced at a low temperature, less than 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another important aspect to consider when sourcing a good agave is the commitment of the supplier to sustainable production and business practices. These could include: number of hectares planted with agave and under what farming system; safety provided in the workplace and monitoring of the production process (HACCP microbiological tests) and social responsibility. Fair trade practices and community involvement are all important issues that add value to a brand and assure consumers that they are buying a good product with added value.

“To increase confidence for a purchasing decision, a visit to the plantations and processing plants for agave syrup is essential and enlightening”, says Cardenas. “It not only allows a buyer to learn more about the product, but also creates a better bond and long lasting relationships with the supplier”.