A natural sugar by any other name is still just another form of sugar. What's so great about this one?

Agave nectar is a sweet, sticky syrup made from the sap of a large, spiky-leafed Mexican succulent plant that is sometimes also used to make tequila. The sap is extracted from the thick leaves of the plant, filtered, and heat-processed to break down its carbohydrates into fructose, a super-sweet form of sugar.

The Mexican name for agave nectar is aguamiel, which means "honey water," and, in fact, the flavor of agave nectar is reminiscent, though not as distinct, as honey. There are two strengths of agave nectar: light and dark. The milder, more neutral flavor of light agave nectar makes it more versatile for use in sweetening a variety of foods such as coffee or tea, that might otherwise be sweetened with table sugar, light honey, or artificial sweetener. Darker agave nectar has a more intense flavor and is often used in baking, as a pancake syrup, or in recipes that might otherwise be sweetened with maple syrup or brown sugar.

Agave nectar is considered sweeter than table sugar, so even though it contains about the same number of calories-about 16 per teaspoon-you use less to get the same sweetening power. Another benefit of agave nectar is its low glycemic index (GI) compared to other sugars. The GI of a food indicates how quickly and easily it raises blood sugar.  Low GI foods are preferred over higher GI foods for people with diabetes and anyone else who is concerned with blood sugar control. The GI for agave nectar ranges from 20 to 30, while the GI for table sugar is 68 and the GI for honey is 55.

But agave nectar is by no means a perfect food. Sometimes a food's nutritional value and contribution to good health is measured by its antioxidant content, because antioxidants are thought to provide protection against heart disease, cancer and other chronic health conditions. When researchers at Virginia Tech tested a variety of natural and alternative sweeteners for their antioxidant content, agave nectar ranked lowest along with refined sugar and corn syrup. The study, published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that dark molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar and honey had significantly more antioxidant activity.

For some people, the benefits of one type of sweetener outweigh the benefits of another and a case can certainly be made for using agave nectar in place of table sugar and other caloric sweeteners to help maintain normal blood sugar levels. Agave nectar is still a sugar, however, and as such, should be used judiciously.

To substitute agave nectar for sugar in a recipe, use one-fourth less, or 3/4 cup agave nectar for every 1 cup of sugar, and reduce the amount of any added liquid in the recipe by one-fourth. So if the recipe calls for1 cup milk or water, reduce that to 3/4 cup.



Glenda Kinder. "Agave Nectar: Better than sugar?" University of Missouri Extension. 16 June 2010 Web 7 July 2010.

Phillips, KM, Carlsen, MH, Blomhoff, R.  "Total antioxidant content of alternatives to refined sugar." Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009 Jan; 109(1):64-71. Web 7 July 2010.