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What is Agave Nectar?

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Blue Agave

Blue Agave Plant

Photo by Amante Darmanin

Agave nectar has exploded onto the food scene and become one of the hottest alternative sweeteners today. In Mexico, where it is known as ‘honey water’, it has been used as sweetener for centuries. America has only recently jumped on the agave bandwagon.

Agave nectar is a concentrated sugar syrup derived from the juice of the agave plant. Blue agave, which has a very high carbohydrate content, is the most popular species of agave used to make the nectar. Agave is also the plant used to make the popular Mexican spirit, tequila.

Agave nectar is slightly less viscous than honey and is available in a many varieties. Most varieties fall into one of two categories: light or dark. Light agave nectar has a golden color and mild flavor while dark agave nectar is a deep amber and has a robust flavor.

How is Agave Nectar Used?

Agave nectar can be used to sweeten beverages and baked goods, similarly to honey or table sugar. Because agave nectar is in syrup form, it dissolves readily into cold beverages making it an ideal sweetener for tea, lemonade, or fruit smoothies. When used as a sweetener in baked goods, adjustments may need to be made to compensate for its high moisture content.

While most varieties of agave nectar have a very mild, subtle flavor, some dark varities are robust enough to be used straight like maple syrup on pancakes and waffles.

Agave Nectar vs Table Sugar

Agave nectar is approximately 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar thanks to its high concentration of fructose. Table sugar, or sucrose, is 50% fructose and 50% glucose, whereas agave nectar can contain as much as 92% fructose. Because fructose has a sweeter flavor than sucrose, less agave nectar is needed to achieve the same level of sweetness as table sugar.

The glycemic load and index of agave nectar is lower than table sugar, once again thanks to its high fructose content. The fructose found in agave nectar is in a complex form called inlulin. Inulin is slower to break down and be absorbed than regular table sugar, leading to a lower glycemic index and load. The low glycemic load of agave nectar makes it a popular sweetener among dieters and diabetics.

Why Agave Nectar?

There are many reasons that agave nectar has become such a popular sweeter, such as its low glycemic load and intensely sweet flavor (as explained above), but it is also popular among vegans and those who seek out natural foods.

Agave nectar is a popular vegan alternative to honey. Agave nectar is 100% plant based whereas honey requires the farming of bees for production. Because agave is similar to honey in color, texture, and flavor, it is a natural substitute.

Many whole foodists also enjoy agave nectar because it undergoes less processing than table sugar. Some darker varieties contain residual minerals and enzymes from the agave plant, which may offer additional nutritional value. Raw varieties (not heat treated) are also available for those who choose to consume only raw foods.

America’s trend towards unprocessed foods as well as the popularization of the glycemic index has led many to turn toward agave nectar as the sweetener of choice.

Where to Buy Agave Nectar

Thanks to the recent popularity of agave nectar, it can be found in most major grocery stores throughout the United States. Agave nectar is most often found either in the baking aisle near other alternative sweeteners or in the jams and jellies near honey. A large selection of agave nectar varities can be found at health food stores.

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