Understanding Agave by Veronica Bosgraaf

Posted on March 19, 2013

In May, I had the opportunity to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico to meet the people who farm and process the agave nectar that we use in Pure bars. We get many questions about agave, from basic questions like “What is it?” and “Where does it come from?” to more complex questions like “How is it processed?” and “How does it affect my body?” I set out to find the answers to all sorts of questions in my agave adventure.
The two things that struck me the most throughout this journey were first, what a simple and sustainable process agave making is and second, how it provides for a good quality of life for the farmers and harvesters in Mexico.
The raw, organic agave nectar we use in Pure Bars comes from the blue agave plant seen here. They were much bigger than I expected! These plants are about 6-7 years old

Agave is grown all over Mexico and is a very sustainable plant. It can easily be grown without fertilizer or herbicides and pesticides. Agave is native to Mexico so it is not vulnerable to weeds and gets everything it needs from the soil. However, there are farms that spray their agave to keep weeds out of the pathways so always look for organic agave to avoid these pesticides. Agave also does not need to be watered beyond what it gets from nature so farming it is not only kind to the earth, but our water supply too.
An agave plant is harvested when it is about 6-7 years old. During its 6 year life it produces shoots (baby plants) which are retrieved and planted in other areas on the farm. To harvest, the mature agave is separated from its root and the spikey leaves are cut from the heart or pina. The pina reminded me of a giant pineapple and can weigh 50-70 lbs. Harvesting an agave plant is very hard work!

Attempting to cut leaves from the agave. Incredibly hard work!

Because Agave is growing so much in popularity, the natural and organic industry pays farmers 3-4 times market price for its agave pinas. Bestground, the company that we buy our agave from also pays its harvesters about 10 time’s minimum wage. This is important because usually these laborers have to send their children to work so that the family can earn a living, but now they can send their children to school instead. Because of the fair price they pay, Bestground has already received Fair Trade certification for one of their processing plants and will be receiving it for the other processing plants soon.

Me with the president of one of the agave processing plants

After the Pinas are harvested, they are thrown into a truck and brought to the processor where they are ground up and soaked in water at 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit)

Pinas ready to be crushed and soaked in water

I took a picture of the temperature gage on the machine to be sure.

After the agave is soaked, the liquid is separated from the fibrous parts. The left over plant material is dumped into trucks and brought back to the farm to be used as compost or fed to animals.

Agave plant material on left. Agave liquid on right.

The liquid continues to be filtered and soaked in warm water several more times to break the complex sugars into simple sugars (fructose) which taste sweet to us. The final step is evaporation at 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) to produce a honey-like consistency.

Agave nectar, final product. So delicious!

Agave varies in color depending on the age and color of the pina as well as the amount of time it spends being soaked and filtered.

various agave nectar, all of this agave is organic and processed below 118 degrees

Agave nectar is a fructose which is a fruit sugar. It is the same kind of sugar that is in fruit we eat. Like any simple sugar it is best to consume it with fiber and protein which slows our body’s absorption of it. In our bodies, fructose is broken down into glucose and then utilized for energy. Our bodies need both sugars, but most people consume way too much. All sugars should be consumed in moderation and in combination with fiber, protein and other nutrients. Sugar becomes detrimental when it is isolated and consumed straight like in soda, other beverages, candy and nutrient weak foods.

Learning how simple and minimally processed our agave nectar is and seeing the positive impact on the lives of the farmers and harvesters verified my decision to use this agave in our Pure bars. When I started Pure bar I was 100% committed to the cleanest and most minimally processed organic ingredients I could find. Now as we grow I continue to look for companies to support that provide ingredients which not only make our bodies healthier but keep the earth healthy and nourished and make communities strong and productive. It’s a commitment to our customers that we will never abandon.