Agave is certainly known as being the primary ingredient to the Mexican distilled liquor, tequila. Tequila has grown in popularity across the world, and with huge emerging markets like China coming up, it is no shock that demand is expected to rise exponentially. The situation has however become more complicated as the amount of agave being harvested now is dwindling as compared to previous years.
According to Brady Bunte, this shortfall was as a result of overproduction in the mid 2000s that lead to low prices for farmers. With so many cutting back on their production levels it has left a much smaller crop to harvest in this and coming years. More recently, agave has become an increasingly popular ingredient in cosmetic products like anti aging creams and hair oils.
Major cosmetic brands like Ulta Beauty and Sephora have done much to promote the image of agave based cosmetics, touting their ability to improve hydration of skin and strengthen hair. Given the new demand for the agave plant that takes up to 8 years to mature, it is not surprising that prices have multiplied eightfold in just 3 years. Tequila makers like Brady Bunte expect these prices to double further by 2017.
Brady Bunte has however found that not all cosmetics manufacturers make use of the blue agave plant material, but rather rely on the yeast found on the leaves as an active ingredient in their products. The active ingredient, Prohyal+, comes from the yeast oligosaccharides, and can apparently be harvested without needing to use the plant itself.
For companies like French manufacturer Silab that uses this ingredient as a substitute for hyaluronic acid, this shortage of agave is not expected to cause problems in the supply of their products to the market. The company utilizes the ingredient in the manufacture of its anti-wrinkle creams that rehydrate the skin and smooth over fine lines.
Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs within the body, but tends to decline as we age. It is believed to be a contributing factor to the youthful appearance of skin by helping to keep the cells hydrated and the skin looking soft and smooth. Brady Bunte has found that for years cosmetic companies have been relying on stocks of hyaluronic acid grown under lab conditions from bacteria taken from rooster combs.
Promoting this plant based alternative has helped these cosmetic firms cultivate a large demand for their products. Not to mention that in the beauty industry, whatever is considered new is also often thought of as better. The cosmetic industry is however not the only other one that is expected to suffer thanks to the expected shortage of agave in the Mexican market.
The food industry has also come to appreciate the use of agave nectar in pastry making, beverage manufacturing, as a binding agent in breakfast cereals and as a diabetic aid. Brady Bunte reports that agave nectar has been found to be sweeter than honey, yet less viscous. It has a very high fructose content that calls for a smaller quantity to be used than honey. Brady Bunte confirms that the nectar is produced by extracting the juice of the agave leaves, and filtering it down to simple sugars through heating. The resulting juice is then concentrated into the nectar syrup.
In the pharmaceutical business, agave is also used in the manufacture of drugs. Brady Bunte points to the plants anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that explain recordings of its use as a medical remedy by the Aztecs, as far back as the early 1500s. These same properties, and the presence of other components like alkaloids and estrogen like isoflavonoids, have contributed to its use in modern medicine.