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Sweetening Naturally
In the US, the labeling term “natural” does not necessarily confirm that the product is unrefined or unprocessed during its production.
BakeMag.com, Oct. 2, 2012
by Staff

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The US is the world’s largest consumer of sweeteners. Over the years, the media as well as the public have commonly associated artificial sweeteners with high levels of carcinogens. While there have been no conclusive studies to prove an association between cancer and artificial sweeteners, many remain skeptical regarding the supposed health benefits surrounding natural sweeteners such as agave nectar.

Despite much of the controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners, the FDA has withdrawn many of these claims. When reexamined, the links between many artificial sweeteners and cancer have been determined as inconclusive.

Often marketed as unrefined, natural and free from additives, agave nectar can be used as a substitute for refined sugar in baking. According to the US National Institute of Health, agave nectar is a highly processed type of sugar from the Agave tequiliana plant. The plant is primarily composed of glucose and fructose sugars. Agave nectar is about 1.5 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Frequently, agave nectar is used as a substitute for honey or sugar in baking recipes. Because agave nectar is sweeter, many claim that it requires smaller portions to substitute processed sugar. Also, agave nectar contains similar calorie levels as table sugar.

On the other hand, a number of natural sweeteners have received criticism regarding their production and claimed health benefits. Even for natural sweeteners, the FDA provides limited regulation on the use of the term “natural” as a healthy trait. In the US, the labeling term “natural” does not necessarily confirm that the product is unrefined or unprocessed during its production. This means that labeling may be fairly deceptive in describing agave nectar as a healthy substitute for sugar in recipes. The FDA considers most natural sweeteners safe, with limited conclusive studies proving any health risks associated with their use.

Agave Plant Facts
• Agave nectar is commonly produced from the Blue Agaves which grow in Southern Mexico.
• Agave is popularly recognized as the plant from which tequila is made.
• When the agave plant has grown to 7-10 years old, the leaves of the plant are cut off, revealing the “pina,” the plant’s core. When harvested, the pina resembles a giant pineapple and can weigh in at 50 to 150 lbs.
• The agave nectar is removed from the core of the plant, filtered and heated at a low temperature. This process will break down the carbohydrates, turning them into sugars.

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