Tequila isn’t the only byproduct of the agave cactus that chefs adore. Arizona’s top toques have been sweetening dishes from appetizers to desserts with agave nectar for a while, and now other chefs (and cookbook authors) are catching on.
Kai, Arizona’s only Mobil Five-Star restaurant, and Tonto Bar & Grill both use agave nectar extensively. That makes sense, as both restaurants focus on Native American and Southwestern cuisines, respectively. But chefs cooking all kinds of cuisines are also stocking up on the stuff.
For years, agave nectar was relegated to diet books and health magazines, but the fructose syrup has escaped the niche and is sweetening up restaurant menus and splashing the pages of cookbooks.
In fact, there is a cookbook devoted to baking with agave nectar called, shockingly, Baking with Agave Nectar. And Cal-Med goddess Joanne Weir trumps the desert syrup in her just released Tequila cookbook.
There are are two “strengths” of agave nectar. One is light, almost flavorless beyond the “sweet” flavor. The other is amber, which has a touch of flavor. Some say it tastes similar to honey, although agave nectar is not nearly as viscous as honey.
What’s so great about agave nectar? Health experts still say it’s “empty” calories, but if you’re gonna load up on sugary sweets, agave nectar has some advantages.
For one, it’s low on the glycemic index – it doesn’t kick start digestive insulin like other types of sugars. And, because it’s sweeter than sugar (1.4 times) you can use less of it.
But that’s not why chefs use it. They use it because it dissolves quickly and it doesn’t crystallize. And it’s cool. As in hip.