reviewed by Christina Lopez
Agave nectar is most easily substituted for liquid sugars since it is already in liquid form, and the difference in moisture will usually be negligible. Because of its lower glycemic index, it makes an excellent substitute for many natural and refined liquid sugars, including:
Agave syrup has several advantages over honey syrup. The light varieties of nectar can have a more neutral flavor than honey, making them less likely to interfere with or mask delicately flavored foods. Many people who find honey distasteful will still like the taste of agave nectar. Unlike honey, agave syrup is entirely vegan, meaning it can be used by individuals who do not wish to use any product associated with animals.
The primary sugar in agave nectar is a complex form of fructose, which gives it a much lower glycemic index than honey. Depending on the variety, honey's glycemic index usually falls in the 65-85 range. The glycemic index of agave nectar differs with type and manufacturer but usually falls between 11 and 30. This makes it less likely to raise blood sugar or trigger the body's fat storage mechanisms.
There is nothing more inconvenient than getting out a bottle of honey only to find that it has solidified into an unpourable, grainy mass. While the honey crystals can be re-liquefied by heating, they must be done carefully and at a low temperature to avoid caramelizing or scorching the sugars.
Agave syrup has a long shelf life and will not crystallize in the bottle. Agave is also thinner than honey, making it easier to measure and pour, and it dissolves well into liquids - even cold drinks.
Parents are vigorously warned not to give honey to children in their first year of life. This is because honey frequently contains bacteria that can cause botulism. While this bacteria is harmless to anyone over the age of one year, it can produce toxins in an infant's immature intestinal tract, causing sickness, hospitalization, and in rare cases, death. Agave syrup is not known to cause botulism in babies.
As sugars go, pure maple syrup is one of the least harmful. It has a medium-low glycemic index (54) and a higher degree of sweetness than table sugar for roughly the same number of calories. However, agave nectar still has some advantages.
While maple syrup is delicious in some applications, its intense flavor and sometimes metallic overtones can make it a less versatile ingredient. While agave and maple's sweetness is comparable (and agave's caloric count is higher), agave still has a lower glycemic index (between 11 and 30).
The most daunting property of maple syrup may be its price. Because it takes approximately 40 gallons of raw maple sap to produce a single gallon of finished syrup, the cost of pure maple syrup can be easily twice that of agave syrup, making it prohibitively priced for regular use.
Brown rice syrup is a liquid sweetener often found in natural food stores and recipes. Though it is said to have a low glycemic index (20), it is not recommended for people with diabetes since its sweetness comes from maltose, which is known to cause spikes in blood sugar.
While the caloric count of brown rice syrup is similar to agave syrup, agave is close to three times as sweet as brown rice syrup, so one can use much less agave to achieve the same sweetness level.
Corn syrup has a glycemic index similar to white table sugar (mid 60's), but it is only about sixty-five percent as sweet. Corn syrup is frequently used in recipes because it is an inert sugar, meaning it will not crystallize. Agave bears this same property, yet it is over twice as sweet as corn syrup and has half the glycemic index.
About Christina Lopez
Christina Lopez grew up in the scenic city of Mountain View, California. For eighteen ascetic years, she refrained from eating meat until she discovered the exquisite delicacy of chicken thighs. Christina is a city finalist competitive pingpong player, an ocean diver, and an ex-pat in England and Japan. Currently, she is a computer science doctoral student. Christina writes late at night; most of her daytime is spent enchanting her magical herb garden.
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