As longtime readers and my family know, I keep a jar full of low fat, high-taste granola on the counter pretty much all the time. I know some of you make my granola on a regular basis just like I do and I thought I’d share a recent experiment. While I have no problems with the amount of sugar I eat –neither Dave nor I are diabetic –I saw a really good buy on agave, the low-glycemic sweetener, at Costco and thought I’d try some in place of the small amounts of honey and granola I traditionally use for granola sweeteners. I had not purchased agave before in any form; I’m an eat-a-little- sugar-if-you-want-it-type of person and have never been into sweeteners of any kind. I’m sure I’m way behind the posting and experiment curves here, but that’s the way it goes.
Before I began stirring up my new batch of granola, which would feature agave, I did a little research. What stirred me to find a bit more was the calorie count on the syrup, which was 60 calories per tablespoon–a lot more than sugar. Hmm, the bottle indicated agave was more sweet than sugar, so you could use less. But if it’s more caloric, did that make sense? I check first with web md and
Agave has about 60 calories per tablespoon, compared to 40 calories for the same amount of table sugar. But because agave is about 1 1/2 times sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it – which means you can achieve the same sweetness for about the same number of calories.
Is Agave Healthier Than Sugar?
But what about agave’s supposed health benefits?
The bottom line is that refined agave sweeteners are not inherently healthier than sugar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, or any other sweetener. Nutritionally and functionally, agave syrup is similar to high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose (Karo) syrup. It does contain small amounts of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, but not enough to matter nutritionally.
Agave nectar or syrup is as high as 90% concentrated fructose (a simple sugar that occurs naturally in fruit), and the rest glucose. But the agave you can buy ranges from 90% to as little as 55% fructose (similar to high-fructose corn syrup), depending on the processing, says Roger Clemens, professor at the University of Southern California and a spokesman for the Institute of Food Technologists.
Since I was interested in agave from these five directions for my granola: 1. cost 2. calories 3. quality of sweetness 4. Is it all made in Mexico? and 5. it’s vegan and honey is not, you should know I had no particular interest in its low-glycemic properties. I knew some folks would, however, and some of them are my family members. Here’s what popped up next when I checked Eating Well dot com, a site I’ve come to trust about nutritional information:
The natural sweetener is valued as a vegan alternative to honey and touted for its low glycemic index. Foods with a higher glycemic index (GI) tend to trigger a greater surge in blood sugar and insulin—the hormone that helps the sugar get into cells—just after eating. (These spikes can be particularly problematic for those with diabetes. High-GI foods also tend to make you hungry again sooner because they’re digested quickly.) According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, agave’s GI value is about five times lower than table sugar’s. Currently no studies compare how, relative to other sugars, agave may affect blood-sugar control. But based on the buzz agave’s been generating, we’ll likely see research in the near future.
Agave packs 20 calories per teaspoon, five more than granulated sugar, but, like honey, it’s sweeter than sugar, so you need less to achieve the same level of sweetness. A general substitution is to use one-third less agave nectar than you would white sugar and reduce other liquids by one-fourth. (This may require experimentation when making some recipes, such as baked goods.)
One final caveat: look for USDA-certified organic products. Nearly all agave sold in the U.S. is imported from Mexico and the FDA has refused some shipments due to excessive pesticide residues. Check for the USDA-certified organic seal or Quality Assurance International (QAI) certified-organic stamp, an independent, global organic certifier accredited by the USDA.
So there is is. I have no claims, no axe to grind, just good granola to make and here are the answers to my questions:
1. COST: The cost is a fraction of that of good-quality maple syrup and honey. I didn’t do an exact ounce per ounce comparison (and it depends totally on the quality of the honey and maple syrup), but the agave is lots cheaper. Maybe half the cost. Two 36-ounce bottles were a total of around ten bucks.
2. CALORIES: I did the math. The calorie count for honey is 64 per tablespoon. Maple syrup is 52. Sugar is 48. Agave is 60. I typically use 1/3 cup each of honey and maple syrup and use no granulated sugar at all.) For this agave granola, I used 1/3 cup agave and 2 tablespoons maple syrup for flavor. My calories for sweeteners, then are usually 340 for honey and 277 for maple syrup–a total of 617. For the new agave-sweetened granola: 1/3 cup Agave is 320 calories plus the 104 for the 2 tablespoons of maple syrup = 424 calories total for sweetening. In other words, I cut close to 200 calories using the agave. That’s really a significant savings, right? Or is it? Because the granola is high in fiber/protein and low in fat, its point level (Weight Watchers) is lower than some other foods of similar caloric counts. If I looked at calories alone, I would save all of 12.5 calories per half cup, and I sometimes don’t even eat that much per day. Hm. Truth in Calories Disclaimer: My calorie counts don’t include the optional coconut or added-at-the-end chocolate I include on the recipe below.
3. QUALITY OF SWEETNESS OR TASTE: The taste is fine-OK, but sort of bland for me. I love honey and maple syrup on the tongue! Overall, however, the sweetness is light, but works and I’m sure is appealing for many people.
4. SUPPORTING LOCAL OR AMERICAN PRODUCERS. The agave I purchased is a product of Mexico, though it is certified organic. Here is the web page, fyi. I buy local honey and Minnesota or Vermont maple syrup.
5. VEGAN: Agave is definitely vegan and honey is definitely not. Since, while not vegan I do eat a 2/3 vegan diet, this is important to me, but not the deal-breaker it would be for some.
While the agave granola might be a better choice for those needing to watch their blood sugar –it appears the jury is still out–and not to repeat Eating Well dot com, but
Currently no studies compare how, relative to other sugars, agave may affect blood-sugar control. But based on the buzz agave’s been generating, we’ll likely see research in the near future.
the sources I found don’t appear to be sure about that until more studies are completed. Not being a medical or nutritional expert, I don’t know. I think it’s worth a visit to a nutritionist, doctor, and a journal to keep track of blood sugar levels to see whether or not you want to eat this daily if you haven’t yet tried it. (If you have, what are your results?) Certainly the price is right and the granola was sweet, if not sweet in the way I like–as in honey or maple syrup. (I’ve never tried to make granola with granulated or brown sugar.) I couldn’t locate agave made in the U.S., so if you’re a local or American producer supporter, agave doesn’t fit that bill or maybe you can find sources I couldn’t. If you’re vegan, you might want to overlook these things and use agave anyway. You might also choose to consider the footprint made by transporting a sweetener to the U.S. (or elsewhere) from Central or South America. Eating locally has its rewards. (Though here in Colorado Springs it sometimes occurs to me we’d be living on tumbleweeds or jack rabbits.
All of that said, if you want to try my agave granola–here’s the recipe. I’d love your feedback. We are eating it! Whether or not I’ll make it again this way remains to be seen. I’ll listen to the feedback from the hub and hopefully you!
For fun, here is another agave granola–this one from Bon Appétit magazine.
ALYCE’S AGAVE GRANOLA makes 8 cups
Total time: 60 minutes
If you’ve been making the granola a while, you’ll see I’ve changed my directions a bit. I now add the dry fruit half-way through the baking process so I have softer, more chewy fruit. If you like, you can still stir it all together at the beginning. You’ll need two rimmed half-sheet baking pans lined with foil to make the whole batch.
PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 300 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT.
- 1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 1/3 cup agave sweetener
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
- 5 cups whole or old-fashioned oats
- 2 teaspoons each: ground cinnamon and ginger
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup each; choose 2: chopped walnuts, pistachios, pecans, or almonds
- 1/4 cup each; choose 2: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and plain sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup total chopped dried fruit: apricots, cherries, cranberries, currants or raisins (any/all) cut to 1/2″ pieces when possible
- 1/4 cup (about 1 3/4 ounces) good quality dark chocolate, very finely chopped or slivered, optional
Mix together the applesauce, agave, maple syrup, and oil in a small bowl or measuring cup. Set aside. In a very large bowl, mix together the oats, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and nuts. Spoon in the applesauce mixture and stir very well. Scoop out onto two rimmed, foil-lined 1/2 sheet baking trays, spreading evenly, and bake 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the dried fruit; stir the granola a bit. Let cool completely before storing or adding chocolate, if using. Otherwise, granola may be eaten hot, warm, at room temperature, or cold. To store: Place in large glass or plastic container with a good seal. Do not store in plastic bags. Will keep a month on the counter.
Cook’s Notes: You can leave out any of the nuts or fruit (or chocolate, of course), and you can also add 1/2 cup coconut if you’d like.
Sing a new song,