Cosmetic Industry Suffers Agave Shortage By Brady Bunte


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.

Agave Medicinal Uses by Brady Bunte

agave medicinal uses brady bunte
The agave plant is perhaps best known as the primary source of tequila. Brady Bunte however emphasizes that this plant is so much more than the alcoholic beverage that has made it internationally famous. The agave plant has for centuries held pride of place in Mexican culture as a sacred plant. Even before the Spanish explorers came to the region, the Aztecs were already using the plant for medicinal purposes.

Although often mistaken for a species of cactus, the agave is actually a succulent perennial that grows long fleshy leaves. At maturity, these leaves that grow from the base of the plant can achieve a height of over 6 feet. When it comes to medicinal use of the agave, it is the sap taken from the leaves and roots that is considered most important. According to Brady Bunte, this sap has been found to contain highly beneficial components including estrogen like isoflavonoids, blood thinners, alkaloids and vitamins A, B, C, D and K. These components are believed to be contributing factors to agave’s anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

One of the key ways in which agave sap was used by the Aztecs was as a poultice to treat skin problems. Brady Bunte explained that it would be mixed with egg whites and applied to burns, cuts, knife wounds and insect bites. The sap’s anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and restorative properties were very useful in healing these kinds of varied skin problems. This remedy is also said to ease pain with stories told of prisoners about to be whipped applying the sap beforehand to make the punishment more bearable. Brady Bunte believes that the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties are also likely to be the reason the leaves were crushed and applied as a treatment for toothaches.

The sap was also used to create tonics that were ingested orally. It helped in a number of ways, such as soothing bronchial inflammations, ulcers and digestive problems. The demulcent properties of the sap have been found to create a soothing coating over mucous membranes. It is also said to function as a laxative and was traditionally used to treat constipation. Despite having laxative abilities, Brady Bunte reports that the remedy was still successfully used in the treatment of conditions like diarrhea and dysentery.

Brady Bunte identifies this traditional tonic as the aguamiel, or waterhoney. It was prepared by roasting one of the leaves until brown, and then squeezing out the juice that was then allowed to simmer over a low heat. Sometimes additional ingredients, like ground gourd seeds and cinnamon sticks, were added to the tonic before being administered to the sick person.

The sap has also been found to contain coumarins. This blood thinning action, along with the anti-inflammatory response and pain relief, would account for its traditional use in the treatment of menstrual problems. Brady Bunte also pointed out other illnesses that were reportedly treated using the sap including jaundice, tuberculosis, flatulence, syphilis and some liver diseases.

The efficacy of the agave sap in traditional medicine has been documented as far back as the mid 1500s. It is however important to note that much like with other herbal remedies, there is no accurate dosage recommendation that can be made. Moderation is recommended, with small quantities to be applied by first time users.

Brady Bunte recommends this as there have been some cases of allergic reactions. It is also believed that high ingestion may lead to digestive and liver problems. Pregnant women are advised to abstain from using agave entirely. The agave plant should be very carefully harvested of its leaves as they have sharp tips. Brady Bunte recommends drying the leaves and roots, as these parts can be stored for a long time.

The Ancient History of the Agave By Brady Bunte

history of agave by brady bunte
The agave plant has a rich history that can be traced back thousands of years. Brady Bunte has found that archeological digs unearthed sites dating over 10,000 years old, depicting human use of agave for food and fiber. By the time the Spanish conquistadors landed on Mexican shores towards the end of the 15th century, the native inhabitants of western Mexico, the Nahuatl, had for generations considered the agave a sacred plant, and a representation of the Aztec Goddess Mayheul’s power over wind, rain and crops. Agave was considered a symbol of longevity, good health, dancing and fertility.

According to Brady Bunte, at the time the conquistadors arrived in the region, the locals were already making use of the agave plant in the making of a fermented beverage called pulque. Because of its special place in their culture, this drink was mainly prepared for religious ceremonies and for treating illnesses.

By the late 1500s, the Spanish explorers begun to run dry of their own liquors such as brandy and wine. Brady Bunte points to this period as the beginning of the tequila era. In order to cope with the shortage, the Spaniards sought an alternative. They found a source of fermentable sugars in the form of the pulque and distilled it using rudimentary techniques to create mezcal.

There were various varieties of agave to be found growing in the region of Sierra Madre. According to Brady Bunte, the Spaniards distilled mezcal from several species and found that the most flavorful taste came from the blue agave, also called the blue tequilana weber agave. It was not long before the enterprising Marquis of Altamira, Don Pedro Sanches de Tagle, established the first commercial distillery and opened taverns serving the drink by the year 1600.

By 1636, the governor decided to take control of the production of tequila and mezcal by forbidding its manufacture amongst indigenous people and authorized few distillers. In this way there was better control over the quality of spirits entering the market and an easier way to collect taxes on the drink.

The many restrictions and prohibitions imposed by the leadership in 1785 suppressed the production of tequila and mezcal until the ban was lifted some 8 years later. Brady Bunte found that this action had a negative impact on the industry as tequila and mezcal production did not thrive again until Mexican independence was achieved in 1821.

With independence achieved and growing popularity of tequila over mezcal amongst indigenous people across the country, agave farming begun to expand in earnest. By the mid 1800s there was already large scale tequila distilleries established. Brady Bunte points to José Antonio Cuervo and Don Cenobio Sauza as amongst the forefathers of the tequila industry. Their distilleries and tequila brands continue to operate successfully even today.

As from the end of the 19th century, tequila had become very much a major contributor to the Mexican economy. Brady Bunte considers the state of Jalisco as perhaps the biggest beneficiary today, with about half of the agricultural work focused on agave farming. The state is also home to many agave growing cooperatives that channel their crops to various distillers in the region. Brady Bunte notes that although mezcals are not as popular, they are still distilled, particularly in the state of Oaxaca where the salmina agave is used in their production.

Today agave is not just used in the making of tequila, but also in the manufacture of agave syrup. The syrup has grown in popularity in recent years as a healthier alternative of organic sweetener. The plant’s fibers are also being used in the manufacture of non-scratch scrubbing sponges. As global demand for tequila grows and these latest innovations take hold, Brady Bunte expects agave farmers to continue reaping big rewards from their harvest, well into the future.