What Is Agave Syrup?

Buying, Using, and Recipes

what is agave

Lindsay Kreighbaum / The Spruce Eats  

Agave syrup, sometimes called agave nectar, comes from the blue agave plant, the same species responsible for tequila. Often used in vegan cooking, baking, and candy making, liquid agave works as a honey substitute, with a similar sweetness though a slightly thinner texture.

What Is Agave Syrup?

Agave syrup comes from the extracted juice of agave plant's spiky leaves. It's heated to transform the abundant starchy inulin into fructose, then concentrated to thicken it to a syrupy consistency. It costs quite a bit more than sugar, but it's also considerably sweeter, so a little goes a long way.

How to Use Agave Syrup

Agave syrup can be used as a replacement for corn syrup in many candy recipes, such as vegan caramels and toffee. Because it's a liquid, it also makes a good sweetener for beverages such as coffee and tea, or for cocktails in place of traditional simple syrup.

It works well when just a touch of sweetness is needed, such as in dressings and cold beverages, including sweetened iced tea. You can also use agave as syrup on its own to top foods such as oatmeal, pancakes, or waffles. For an easy flavored syrup for use in teas, coffee, and more, add a whole vanilla bean to a bottle of light agave and let it rest for a month.

Close up of leaves of agave plant
Warwick Kent / Getty images
Raw Organic Dark Agave Syrup
bhofack2 / Getty images 
Organic Hot Pancakes (Vegan Cuisine)
Juanmonino / Getty Images
Agave nectar is poured over an apple cinnamon cake.
KumariPhoto / Getty Images
Baked Camembert Cheese With Agave Syrup And Pickled Cherry Blossoms On Top
Naomi Mogi / EyeEm / Getty Images

What Does It Taste Like?

Agave tastes about one and a half times sweeter than cane sugar; with a relatively neutral flavor, it can be used in place of granulated sugar, molasses, or honey. Darker varieties generally exhibit more of a botanical flavor, a bit like honey or maple syrup.

Agave Syrup Recipes

Using agave syrup in place of sugar or another sweetener in a salad dressing or beverage is pretty straightforward: simply stir it in according to taste. Replacing granulated sugar with agave syrup in a recipe for cookies or cake, though, requires additional ingredient adjustments to compensate for the different characteristics of agave syrup and sugar. Either follow a recipe already tested with agave syrup or use some standard substitution guidelines.

Where to Buy Agave Syrup

Look for agave syrup in natural foods stores or in the natural foods sections of most grocery stores. You may also find it with the sugar and other sweeteners such as brown rice syrup and coconut palm sugar. Agave syrup is also widely available online.

Storage

Store agave syrup in the original container in a cool, dark place or in your refrigerator to retain freshness.

Nutrition and Benefits

A teaspoon of agave syrup contains 20 calories, all from carbohydrates, and no measurable fat, vitamins, minerals, protein, or other nutrients.

Varieties

Agave syrup is available in dark, amber, light, and raw varieties.

  • Dark agave imparts a strong color and caramel flavor to barbecue sauces, baked goods, and dark desserts, such as chocolate pudding.
  • Amber agave, with its light caramel flavor, works well as a syrup straight out of the bottle, as a topping for pancakes and oatmeal. It also makes a good sweetener for tea.
  • Light agave makes a good choice when you need a neutral-tasting sweetener without adding color, as in cheesecake.

Be mindful when baking with agave in place of sugar; the baked goods made with agave turn out darker than those baked with cane or beet sugar. Raw agave is processed with enzymes instead of heat, or at a temperature below 115 F, making it an appropriate sweetener for the raw foods diet.

Myths

Agave syrup has been touted as healthier than cane sugar and other natural sweeteners because it registers lower on the glycemic index, a ranking of food's effect on blood sugar levels. However, fructose, which the body cannot metabolize, makes up a much higher percentage of agave syrup than it does all other common sweeteners, including even high fructose corn syrup. Fructose consumption has been linked to the obesity epidemic in the United States and may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and some cancers. As with any sweetener, use agave syrup sparingly.