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A Healthy Alternative?

Agave (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) nectar is derived from the agave plant, a spiky cactus native to Mexico that is also the source of Tequila.

Agave is approximately 84% fructose, the sugar that gives fruits and vegetables their sweetness. Agave nectar is similar to honey, but not as thick, and it’s higher in calories than white sugar.

It’s also 1.5 times as sweet as regular sugar, which means that if you want to use it to replace sugar in baking, you need to reduce the amount.

To substitute agave nectar for white sugar, for each cup of sugar called for by the recipe, use 2/3 of a cup of agave and reduce the overall liquid by 1/4 of a cup. If you’re substituting agave nectar for honey or maple syrup in a recipe, you can just do a direct one-for-one substitution.

Agave can change the texture and cooking rate of baked goods, so it’s a good idea to reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit and/or create a foil tent over baking items to reduce the speed at which their tops brown. Using parchment paper can also be helpful, as treats baked with agave nectar are more likely to stick to the pan. When using agave nectar in baking, be sure to mix it with the wet ingredients (liquids and fats) before mixing all the ingredients together, and put the batter or dough into the oven or fridge immediately, or you might get an oily layer on top of your baked goods.

In addition to its use in baking, agave nectar is nice in hot drinks like coffee and tea, as well as cold drinks such as lemonade, iced tea, and certain alcoholic beverages. It can also be substituted for maple syrup on waffles and pancakes.

There is currently much debate as to whether or not agave nectar is healthier than sugar. It’s certainly less refined than white table sugar. It’s also lower on the glycemic index, which means that it may be better for diabetics, and it’s definitely healthier than artificial sweeteners, which have been associated with everything from cancer to weight gain.

Although agave nectar is a healthier choice than white table sugar or artificial sweeteners, it does have a downside. It’s high in calories and although it contains natural sugar, it’s still sugar, which means that it can cause weight gain and health problems if too much is consumed. As with any other sweetener, agave nectar should be used in moderation.

Sources
The Kitchn, “Tips for Substituting Agave in Baked Goods,” n.d.
Townsend, M., “Agave Syrup Debate: Health Benefits and Downsides,” Vancouver Observer, 4 September 2012.
Vankoughnet, K., “A Beginner’s Guide to Sugars and Natural Sweeteners,” Canadian Living, n.d
Young, L., “The Truth About Agave Nectar,” Best Health, 2011.

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