A Toast to the fabulous Agave.

May 1, 2013


Originally appeared in the Cenizo Journal, available online or by subscription at cenizojournal.com

 


There is little so wonderfully
refreshing as a salt-rimed
margarita at the end of a hot
desert day. Native to the
Chihuahuan desert, the agave plant,
sometimes called the century plant,
is the mother of tequila and has been
used in a multitude of ways for thousands
of years. In Jalisco, Mexico,
the agave is grown like a crop in row
after row of large spiky plants. The
waste material of the blue agave
plant, the only one allowed to be
used in the production of tequila, is
re-used to create paper.
One of the most recent uses for
agave of interest to Cenizo Journal
readers is as a source of green energy.
Because of its astonishing growth
(the flowering head of the plant
grows up to a foot a day) the agave is
being investigated for use as a bio
fuel. Its use could help solve the food
versus fuel debate regarding corn as
a bio fuel.
Because the fresh sap of the plant
causes contact dermatitis (itching
and swelling of the skin) and the
heart of the agave is poisonous if
eaten raw, boiling or roasting the
plant is necessary before using it.
Agave has been used in the
Southwest for more than 4,000
years: the pointed ends of leaves
were traditionally used as a sewing
needle or leather awl. The fiber of
the leaves is fashioned into rope
much as the yucca plant is used. The
cleaned fibers can be made into
cloth. The heart of the plant, much
like a giant artichoke, can be cut out,
roasted and eaten. It has a rich, mild
flavor. Cooking is essential! This is
the point at which I ask, “who was
the first person to figure out this bit?”
The transformation from agave
to tequila begins with its fermentation
into a beer-like drink. The fermented
liquid is then distilled into
tequila.
A boiled preparation of the juice
or sap of the fine agave plant is antibacterial,
antibiotic, fungicidal and
antiviral.
Many people have heard of or use
the processed nectar of the agave
plant as a sweetener; it is thought of
as having a low glycemic index. In
actuality, short of pure liquid fructose,
processed agave syrup has the
single highest amount of fructose
possible. The low glycemic index is
true of the unprocessed, raw nectar.
So skip thinking that agave syrup or
nectar is a great alternative to table
sugar and learn the other ways that
this fabulous plant can be and has
been used.
For example, in the evening when
the sun is going down use your margarita
to toast a wonderful gift from
nature.

 

 

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