I was recently fortunate enough to receive a fabulous sample pack of agave nectars from Wholesome Sweeteners to review with my moms’ group and on my blog. I have been using agave nectar for a couple years now, but they are introducing some new products that have me (and my kids) all kinds of excited!
Before I get into the review, let me say a little about agave nectar and sugary stuff in general.
Hey Laura, what about sugar?
Sugar is sugar is sugar is sugar. It is an empty carbohydrate that is not meant to be a quality food substance. Sugar should be a treat, a flourish, a small part of your well balanced diet. Just because a sugar is “all natural” or “organic” or “raw” or “low glycemic” doesn’t mean you should indulge in it any more than you would any other kind of sugar. Those labels don’t make it a health food!
That said, I think that life is only worth living if you are enjoying the living of it! Who cares if you can avoid death for an extra 4-5 years at the end, if you have had such a spartan, unpleasant lifestyle that has kept you from truly enjoying the life you’ve been given?!
For most people, a happy life means (among a lot of other very important, much more existential things I’m not going to go into here) including a moderate amount of sugar in your diet.
Are there certain types of sugar that are better than others? Yes. I believe so.
As a general rule, I try to avoid highly processed foods. I use evaporated cane juice instead of chemically-processed sugars; I buy local raw honey; I love dates as a sweetener for certain recipes. Agave nectar is probably the most processed sweetener I use, and I always buy the organic raw stuff that hasn’t been cooked to death or filtered with nasty chemicals.
Agave nectars are not created equally. The two brands that I trust are Wholesome Sweeteners and Madhava. Their farmers use organic methods and their manufacturers use gentle processing to extract the nectar from the plant. There have been cases in which other manufacturers have adulterated the agave nectar with high fructose corn syrup (this happens with honey, too!); this isn’t a very well regulated industry, so you have to choose manufacturers you can trust.
I really appreciate that Wholesome Sweeteners is Fair Trade Certified and has a “Fair Trade, Not Aid” mentality in their cooperative efforts with Mexican farmers. One of the best long-term ways to combat third world poverty is to fund industry rather than pour money only into rescue missions. It’s that whole “teach a man to fish” philosophy, and I am a huge supporter of it.
But I heard agave nectar is super bad for you - basically HFCS in disguise!
Oh, you are probably thinking about that article that Dr. Mercola got published in the Huffington Post.
I have found Dr. Mercola to be increasingly tiresome in his rants. For someone with the term “doctor” in front of his name - someone who ought to be dedicated to a more scientific approach, his attacks are vitriolic, inflammatory and often not even based in fact. His article about agave nectar seems to be the latter.
Here are some articles in defense of agave nectar, so you can make your own decision.
- A third-party, comprehensive look at the facts and fictions regarding agave nectar.
- Madhava’s rebuttal to Dr. Mercola’s article.
- Wholesome Sweeteners’ rebuttal to Dr. Mercola’s article.
You know that HLW is all about helping you be informed. I can’t make the decision for you to use agave nectar or not; you get to decide what you are going to feed your body. Personally, I have no issues with using agave nectar in moderation - just like any of the other sugary sweet stuff I include in my enjoyable life!
Finally, the review!
In addition to the familiar Organic Blue Agave Nectar and Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar, I also got a bunch of little packets of Wholesome Sweeteners’ flavored agave nectars. Naturally flavored with cinnamon, maple, strawberry, and vanilla, these single-serving packets are a fun new way to enjoy agave nectar.
My favorite was the cinnamon - the flavoring is real and doesn’t leave a weird aftertaste like artificial cinnamon flavors. Plus, the spice of the cinnamon cuts the sweetness of the agave nectar a bit. I absolutely love it over some plain yogurt. I would definitely purchase this for myself as a special treat.
My kids’ favorite was the strawberry, for the opposite reason - it was super duper sweet! I did not care for it, but they thought it was great on their pancakes. It certainly tastes better than artificial strawberry syrup, and is sweet enough that it would be a great alternative if you are trying to wean your kids off the HFCS “fake” syrups out there. Plus, a little goes a long way (agave nectar is about twice as sweet as table sugar). The 2 tsp packet was plenty to sweeten an entire 5 inch diameter pancake slathered with peanut butter.
The maple flavored agave nectar was just okay. I simply prefer real maple syrup (grade B - the darker the better!). However, if you need or want a lower glycemic alternative to maple syrup, this would be a nice treat. (The only trouble I foresee is that since it’s extra sweet, the smaller volume of nectar you need on a pancake leaves it drier than if you were to drown it in maple syrup.)
The vanilla might be really nice in tea if you like a little extra flavoring. But I didn’t think that the vanilla added that much extra “wow” to the already lovely burnt caramel undertones of plain agave nectar.
I prefer the organic raw agave nectar - it is processed at a more gentle temperature, leaving more of the plant’s good enzymes intact. Taste-wise, the “plain” regular and raw agave nectars are not that different. I sometimes use plain agave nectar in place of honey, when the viscosity of honey is going to make stirring difficult. Tea is a good example - the agave nectar dissolves immediately, whereas honey usually settles at the bottom, even after a good stir. I also use agave for certain recipes - if you sub it for granulated sugar, you need to use less (remember, it’s sweeter than sugar!) and reduce the overall liquid amount.
While I wouldn’t replace all the sweeteners in my house with agave nectar, Wholesome Sweeteners’ products are a nice solution for certain situations. Just the other day, I tried using it in place of the honey called for in The Best Peanut Sauce Ever, and it tasted great! I’ll probably do that from now on, since the super-quality honey I buy is way spendier than agave nectar!
I have some sample packets of agave nectar to send out to my loyal readers, plus information brochures and coupons! As long as supplies last, I’ll mail samples to whoever is interested, first come, first served. Just email me your address and I’ll send you the loot!
(As always, the postage comes out of my own pocket. If you want to offset my costs, feel free to shop through my Amazon link, which earns me a teensy kickback over time.)