Ingredient Feature: Agave
The agave, the featured ingredient in our Agave Nectar collection, is as interesting as it is nourishing and useful. With agave varieties numbering in the hundreds, the species flourishes in the dry desert soil of the American Southwest, Mexico and South America.
Though commonly mistaken for cacti or aloe, agaves are succulents that produce rosettes of fleshy, hard, spiky leaves. The flowers are “perfect,” meaning they contain both male and female parts, and they typically bloom only once. One familiar species, Agave americana, goes by the name “century plant” for the long time it takes to flower. It doesn’t actually take a century, though the plant needs many years to store enough nourishment for flowering.
And what a bloom! The leaf rosette produces a tall stem or “mast,” off which a profusion of short tubular flowers grows. Some types of agave plants produce several pounds of edible flowers, which attract pollinators (bats or insects, often) with a musky perfume. In certain species, distillation of the developing agave bloom produces the liquor mescal; the blue agave plant is the source of tequila.
Greek: agauos = of kings and heroes, noble
In addition to the flowers, three major parts of the agave are edible: the leaves, the stalks or basal rosettes, and the sap or nectar (called aguamiel—honey water). The leaves may be collected for cooking in winter and spring, when the plants are rich in sap. The leaves of several species also yield fiber, such as sisal hemp, used to make clothing and rugs.
Roasted stalks can be chewed like sugarcane to extract the sweet nectar. As the plant prepares to bloom, that life-giving nectar rushes to the base of the young flower stalk.
You can enjoy the quenching, richly moisturizing properties of this desert plant for yourself in Agave Nectar.
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