The agave plant is the primary raw material to the tequila making process. According to Brady Bunte, this plant has however proven more versatile in terms of being a food source than many would imagine. There are over 200 species of agave plant to be found around the world, with agave tequila being the specific variety grown in Mexico for distilling tequila.
When considering which agave plants can be used for food, it is important to first identify the species. Brady Bunte recommends focusing on spine arrangement, length and shape of the plant to help identify the variety using online resources. Some species that have proven to have edible parts include tequilana, deserti, palmeri, sisalana, and scabra.
Brady Bunte also advises that when considering a plant to try out as a food source, older is better. The level of carbohydrates and sugars in the plant tends to increase with age, making older agave more delicious. Given that the plant can take up to 10 years to mature, it is best to seek out larger and tougher choices that are likely older.
Agave plants typically have three edible parts, the flowers, stalks, and sap. Brady Bunte confirms that the leaves are not often edible, but can be chewed on when cooked and the fibers spat out. Many indigenous tribes in parts of Mexico that have for centuries made use of the agave plant as a food source, have learned what time of year to harvest the varied parts of specific species of agave.
Brady Bunte has found that in summer, agaves often produce large amounts of flowers, which can be boiled and roasted. Natives of the Tehuacan region in Mexico often used the boiled flowers as an ingredient added to scrambled eggs. The flower nectar can also be used to make sauces and agave sugar. Brady Bunte has ascertained that this sugar is very high in fructose and sweeter than honey or ordinary sugar. Less of the agave sugar can be used in cooking than compared with other sweeteners, with the same result. When bottled, it possesses a shelf life of up to two years.
The stalks of the agave plant can be harvested before they blossom in summer and roasted. The results have a sweet, almost molasses type taste. When you take out the stalk, a well is created at the bottom where sap collects. This sap can be used to make tequila.
For species of agave whose leaves are edible, there is plenty of sap to be found in the leaves during winter and spring. Brady Bunte believes that the leaves can be roasted and the chewed on to enjoy the sweet taste, without swallowing the fibers. Alternatively, one can boil the leaves and resulting juice consumed as a soup. If you are unsure as to the palatability of the leaves, boil them and taste the juice. Discard if caustic.
Another way Brady Bunte has established that indigenous tribes ate the plant was by, after talking out the stalk to eat, peeling off the leaves and pit baking the plant. They would dig a hole, line it with bricks, light a fire and once the flames die down, put in the plant and cover the hole to keep in the heat. After a day of slow cooking, the plant would be ready to eat. This kind of task would have been difficult for just one person to undertake given the huge size of older plants.
Brady Bunte issues a word of caution for anyone who intends trying to use the agave plant for food. Careful handling of the plant is necessary, especially the roots, where contact with the sap can easily cause dermatitis. Also, be careful of the sharp points of the leaves, which can cause blood vessels to rupture and serious bruising if they pierce the skin.