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What is agave syrup?

Partida AgaveAgave 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.

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  • Christine
    February 19, 2008

    Does the Partida brand contain 15 calories per tablespoon? I’ve never seen agave syrup that contains anything less than 60 calories per tablespoon.

  • EvilScienceChick
    February 19, 2008

    I also like it for sweetening iced tea!

  • Nicole
    February 19, 2008

    Christine – Oops! I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that. I updated the post above to be more correct. Thanks!

  • Mary
    February 19, 2008

    I use agave nectar (not sure the diff between it and agave syrup) in most of my baking and everything turns out great. I even substituted it for sugar in my homemade marshmallows (recipe courtesy of baking bites!) and they were great….just a little off-white…which was ok, cause I dipped them in chocolate. The conversion I use is 3/4 cup agave nectar to 1 cup sugar. It’s sold by the honey in out grocery, but I buy it in bulk from amazon because it is MUCH cheaper.

  • Kalyn
    February 19, 2008

    Hi Nic,
    There are actually two different types of agave nectar. I don’t know what the difference is in how the two types are produced, but they do taste slightly different. The “Amber” type tastes most like honey, but there is a variety called “light” that tastes much more like sugar. I haven’t used it much for baking, but I’ve had great results in every recipe where I’ve used it.

  • Karen
    February 20, 2008

    would you be able to substitute this for maple syrup? thanks.

  • Betty
    April 4, 2008

    Where can I purchase agave syrup?

  • OrganicGuy
    April 27, 2009

    You can get agave by mail order at http://www.sunorganic.com – look under sweeteners.

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