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(post, Ania Catalano)
Many of you have seen, heard of, or even tasted agave nectar. But for the rest of you who are saying "Agave what?" here's a brief history on this new and delicious sweetener, and how I came upon it. As a whole-foods chef, store owner, and teacher, my life pretty much revolved around new and healthy ingredients I could find for my customers and clients, especially alternative sweeteners to replace refined sugar. My best discovery was finding agave nectar, a natural, organic, low-glycemic sweetener that not only is good for you, but actually tastes great. That was in the mid-1990s, when agave nectar was just beginning its journey to popularity. So what exactly is agave nectar, and where does it come from? Agave nectar is a plant-based sweetener made from several different species of the Mexican agave plant, one being the Blue Weber variety, which tequila is also made of. (And no, you won't get intoxicated after eating agave. Sorry.) [%image reference-image float=left width=400 caption="Agave nectar is much sweeter than refined sugar, so use less of it in recipes."] Although agave has a history of being used as a sweet drink by the ancient Mexican Indians, it wasn't until the mid-1990s that its nectar was experimented with and developed into a commercially manufactured sweetener. Agave nectar is liquid, similar to honey but less viscous, and its taste is very mild, slightly caramel-like, with a delicate floral aroma. It's much sweeter than refined sugar, so when cooking, use 3/4 cup for every cup of sugar called for in a recipe. Agave nectars are low on the glycemic index (ranging from 19 to 39) due to their high fructose-to-glucose ratio, which means they do not cause insulin levels to spike and crash. So diabetics and people with hypoglycemia (like me) can use agave nectar in moderation as a great substitute for sugar or artificial sweeteners in their diets. When used in combination with fiber-rich fruits, veggies, and whole-grain flours, agave-sweetened desserts leave you more satisfied with less.