Agave syrup – also known as agave nectar – is one of those things that was relegated to obscurity in less-trafficked natural foods markets for years, but has recently encountered a substantial upsurge in popularity. The result of this is a much more high profile position in the grocery story, though not everyone has experience with it yet. The syrup is made from agave plants (including, but not limited to, the tequila variety of the plant), which are juiced and filtered so that the resulting liquid is thick and honey-colored. It’s becoming a very popular sugar alternative because not only is it very sweet, but because it has a very low glycemic index. Essentially, this means that it won’t cause your blood sugar to spike like some other high-sugar or high-carbohydrate foods. As far as I know, there aren’t any other natural sweeteners with a GI lower than agave syrup. It still has the same number of calories as sugar, though (15 per tsp).
The consistency of agave syrup is somewhere between maple syrup and honey: syrupy, but thin enough that it is very easy to pour. It tastes similar to honey in terms of sweetness and might even be a little bit sweeter. It lacks that signature taste of honey, however, so I would describe it as having a slightly cleaner flavor – albeit one with a lot more character than, say, a plain sugar syrup. The bottle pictured here is the Partida Tequila Agave Nectar that I mentioned in my margarita post a couple of days ago.
Agave syrup can certainly be used in baking, but it cannot be substituted directly for sugar. One problem is that it is sweeter than sugar. Another is that it is a liquid, so it changes the proportions of the recipe. Try starting with a recipe that calls for honey and substitute agave. It will act much the same way, contributing to browning and helping to keep the baked good moist a day or two after baking. If you like your results, go ahead and experiment with other recipes and substituting part of the sugars.