What is agave syrup?
Agave syrup, also sometimes called agave nectar, is a liquid sweetener. The taste is very sweet, but fairly neutral when compared to honey or maple syrup. As it’s made from a plant, it’s considered more natural than artificial sweeteners and sugars. Agave syrup is made from the sap of several species of agave plants native to Mexico and surrounding areas, including the blue agave which is most commonly known for its use in the production of tequila.
Agave syrup is made of the juice from the core, or piña, of the agave, that is then carefully heated and refined until it is a light-yellow coloured liquid sweetener. There is also a dark agave syrup variety that is made by ‘toasting’ the juice for longer to give it a more intense taste, similar to white sugar and brown sugar.
Agave syrup has been used in Mexico and other Latin American countries for centuries and was originally used for medicinal purposes to cure skin aggravations and heal wounds. Today it is mainly used as a sweetener in foods and beverages, and has also become more mainstream worldwide with the trend towards more natural ingredients.
What is agave syrup used for?
You may have spotted agave syrup as an ingredient in one of the most famous cocktails, the margarita. Agave syrup is a popular liquid sweetener in cocktails and other beverages as it dissolves quickly in hot or cold drinks and has a mild taste. Agave syrup can also be used in food recipes, most commonly baking, but it also goes well in marinades and on it’s own as a sweet syrup for desserts.
Try agave syrup in: Moroccan Orange Cake
Is agave syrup good for you?
Agave syrup is often touted as a ‘natural’ sweetener and while it certainly is more natural than commercial sweeteners, it’s important to understand a few things about it before deciding if it is right for you.
With its history as a medicine plant, you may assume agave syrup has some health benefits the way raw or manuka honey does. Sadly, there is no research that backs this up, and many of the health benefits from the plant are destroyed in the heating process to turn the sap into syrup.
It’s not all bad news though. Agave syrup has a low glycemic index, meaning that it’s low in glucose and doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels. Its low GI status makes it a better choice for diabetics, however that doesn’t mean agave syrup is healthy.
Despite being a low GI sweetener, agave syrup is very high in fructose and consuming too much of this can damage your liver, lead to higher cholesterol, and insulin resistance over time. Comparing agave syrup to honey, unless you’re vegan and can’t have animal products, or diabetic, honey would be the winner health wise as it is lower in fructose, has more antioxidants and is more ‘natural’ as there’s less commercial processing.
The bottom line is that like all sweet foods, natural or not, agave syrup is not bad for your if consumed in moderation.
Where to buy agave syrup in Australia
Agave syrup can be a little hard to track down in Australia, as the big supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths don’t always stock it. The best place to get your hands on it is online from a specialty health food store or in person at a bulk food store. Alcohol stores, such as Dan Murphy's, will also stock it on occasion as a cocktail mixer.
Agave syrup prices can start as low as $1.50 per 100g at a bulk food store, or reach around $8 for a 250mL bottle from a health food store.
If you’re still unable to find agave syrup you may be tempted to make it yourself. Unfortunately homemade agave syrup is rare, as it requires a specific type of aged agave plant that is most commonly grown in Mexico. The process for extracting and distilling the juice or sap until it becomes a sweetener syrup is also fairly labour intensive. Best to use a substitute for agave syrup here!
What is a good substitute for agave syrup?
The good news is there are plenty of swaps for agave syrup! Agave syrup can easily be substituted with almost anything sweet that has a similar consistency. Honey, while a little thicker, is one of the most popular substitutes, and if using a raw variety will also have similar natural health benefits as agave. Other more natural replacements for agave are maple syrup and rice malt syrup.
You can also directly swap agave syrup with corn syrup, homemade sugar syrup or artificial liquid sweeteners sold in the supermarket.