Superfoods Technical Fact Sheet
What is Agave?
Agave (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) is native to Mexico and Central America, where is has been used for many hundreds of years as a form of sweetener. The nectar made from the plant is called ‘aguamiel’ or ‘honeywater’ in Mexico, and agave is also the plant from which tequila is made.
What is Inulin?
Inulin is a type of fructan, a polymer of fructose molecules. Because it is a relatively long chain polymer, inulin behaves more like a type of fibre than a carbohydrate. The human digestive tract does not contain the necessary enzymes to digest fructans, and therefore it is considered a low-calorie addition to food. It is used as a soluble fibre with the health benefits that brings, and also to give sweetness without adding to the glycaemic loading of a food.
Agave Inulin has also been shown to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, as it acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are the food nutrients that feed the good bacteria in our gut, and recent studies have shown that agave inulin can help to feed both the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains of bacteria, helping to increase levels of these important bacteria.
Inulin is known as a ‘super fibre’. It is a highly soluble dietary fibre. It is not digested in the stomach, nor absorbed in the small intestine, but acts to clean the gut and absorb toxins and substances to be excreted. It therefore has all the benefits that are associated with the effects of soluble fibre, namely:
- Helps improve transit time, and alleviate constipation
- Alters the metabolism of bile acids
- Helps reduce toxic substances
- Helps reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Helps normalise blood sugar levels
- Helps prevent serious bowel disease
In addition to this, studies would seem to suggest that inulin promotes beneficial immune activity and research on Chrons disease patients suggest that daily intake significantly decreases disease activity.
It also acts as a prebiotic – ie a food source for beneficial bacteria in the gut, thereby helping them to sustain healthy populations, with all the health benefits that brings. Not only do they help to prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria such as pylori, clostridium, candida and others, but also aids in digestive function, motility and even production of some B vitamins. Both bifidobacteria and lactobacilli strains are benefitted.
Another way in which inulin contributes to health is that is helps with the absorption of some key minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus.
Historic and Traditional Uses
Long used by natives of middle America for its properties as a sweetener, human remains dating back at least 10,000 years show the it was in use for both food and fibre in human pre-history. The Aztec goddess, Mayahuel, was said to symbolize agave’s properties of long life and health, and for the Nahuatl, who were the original inhabitants of Western Mexico, the plant was worshipped as representing this goddess’s earthly power.
The Spanish Conquistadores were quick to spot agave’s potential and by 1520 agave was being exported to the Old World. Agave is mentioned as a food of the Aztecs and natives in the Florentine Codex of 1580.
The Nahuatl produced a fermented agave beverage called ‘pulque’, which was primarily used for religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. The Spaniards took this use of agave further and produced the alcoholic drink tequila from it, and it became an important farmed crop for this purpose.
With the search for healthy, natural forms of sweetener, the sweet properties of agave came to the fore, and agave is now also farmed for agave nectar, a form of liquid sweetener, and agave inulin, a powder with low glycaemic properties due to its fibre content.
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 Buddington, K. K.; J. B. Donahoo, R. K. Buddington (2002). “Dietary Oligofructose and Inulin Protect Mice from Enteric and Systemic Pathogens and Tumor Inducers”. J. Nutr.132: 472–477.
 Seifert, S.; B. Watzl (2007). “Inulin and Oligofructose: Review of Experimental Data on Immune Modulation”. J. Nutr 137: 2563S–2567S.
 Cho, S. S. (2009). Handbook of prebiotics and probiotics ingredients: health benefits and food applications. CRC Press.