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