Agave Nectar: A Natural Alternative to Sugar

May 11, 2015
by Sara Snow for Thrive Market
Agave Nectar: A Natural Alternative to Sugar

Even if you aren't with agave nectar, you've likely had a brush with the agave plant's best-know product: tequila. But don't let the memories of a margarita hangover deter you—this sweetener is much kinder to your body.

As demand for alternative sweeteners grows, agave nectar is getting its turn in the spotlight. The thin, syrupy sweetener is made from the juice of the agave, a large succulent with a blue-green hue native to Mexico and Central America. The agave plant can grow up to 20 feet tall, with giant flowering spikes, and when the spike is harvested, a sweet, transparent sap is released. This liquid, called "aguamiel" in Spanish, which translates to "honey water," is what's bottled as agave nectar.

But why, exactly, has agave become so popular?

For one thing, agave nectar is naturally low on the glycemic index (most agave nectars rank at 30 to 40) and contains only 10 to 20 calories per teaspoon. For comparison's sake, table sugar has a glycemic index of 68.

Compared to table sugar (also known as sucrose), agave is one and a half times as sweet with only a few more calories, which means it can be used sparingly. A smaller amount can sweeten your food even more than regular sugar.

Because of its syrupy consistency, agave mixes easily into smoothies and batters. Baking with agave is a snap, as this sweetener absorbs moisture, rather than contributing more liquid to the recipe. Agave even drizzles nicely over waffles and pancakes as a maple syrup substitute.

A sugar substitute that isn't heavily processed? Sounds pretty sweet to us.

Photo credit: Kathryn Page

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This article is related to: Cooking, Natural Sweeteners, Sugar-Free, Glycemic index

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4 thoughts on “Agave Nectar: A Natural Alternative to Sugar”

  • Angela Vullo

    Agave is actually heavily processed and not a good sugar substitute. I prefer honey or maple syrup.

  • Drew

    Agave is a neutral-flavored sweetener which does not impart the flavors of honey or maple syrup and therefore its range of applications is wider, and its glycemic index is lower than table sugar. Be that as it may, it is still high in fructose, which the Western world grossly over-consumes already. Furthermore, calling agave nectar 'natural' is misleading--as Angela points out, agave nectar is highly processed.

    But do I keep agave nectar in my kitchen? Sure I do. It is unbeatable in a margarita or mezcal old fashioned, which are about the only recipes for which I keep it around.

  • Michelle Schafer Best
    Michelle Schafer Best May 14, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    This article is extremely misleading. Agave's low glycemic index is a result of its high fructose content--90+%! Because fructose is processed in the liver, it does not cause a quick blood sugar spike like pure glucose. However, the load that fructose imparts on the liver can, over time and with regular high consumption, contribute to things like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. As a side note, high-fructose corn syrup is only about 55% fructose, making it less taxing on the liver than agave nectar.

  • Teresa Belcher

    The impact of agave syrup on blood sugar (as measured by its glycemic index and glycemic load) is comparable to fructose, which has a much lower glycemic index and glycemic load than table sugar (sucrose).

    However, consumption of large amounts of fructose can be deleterious and can trigger fructose malabsorption,metabolic syndrome, hypertriglyceridemia, decreased glucose tolerance, hyper insulinemia, and accelerated uric acid formation.

    Due to its high fructose levels, agave syrup has the potential to lead to insulin resistance and significantly increased triglyceride levels (a risk factor for heart disease).

    Use with caution!

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