Agave syrup is a natural sweetener derived from the agave plant, a succulent that grows mainly in Mexico but can also be found in southern and western parts of the United States and in central and tropical regions of South America. Agave syrup can be used as a replacement for sugar and is known for its health benefits.
When the agave plant has matured the leaves are removed and the core of the plant (called the "pina") is harvested. Sap from the pina is extracted, filtered, and heated. This process breaks the carbohydrates down and turns them into sugars, creating the syrup, which is sometimes called agave nectar.
Agave Syrup Versus Refined Sugar
Refined sugar is a processed sweetener with no nutritional value and a high-glycemic index, while agave syrup is natural and has a low-glycemic index. The glycemic index indicates the amount of carbohydrates a food contains that the body can turn into sugar, impacting your blood sugar level. The higher the glycemic index, the larger your blood sugar will spike.
Although agave syrup's most heath-promoting property is its low level on the glycemic index, it also contains saponins and fructans, which have health benefits as well. Saponins are known to boost the immune system and have anti-inflammatory properties. Fructans, such as insulin, are believed to help in lowering cholesterol and aiding in weight loss by decreasing the appetite.
If the sap from certain agave plants is not cultivated correctly it can cause acute contact dermatitis, which can make the skin redden and blister. To avoid this, agave sap should be processed before ingesting.
Uses for Agave Syrup
Agave syrup can be used as a substitute for honey or sugar when cooking or baking. It can also be used in drinks, to sweeten coffee, tea, and cocktails. When substituting recipes with agave syrup, use about two-thirds of a cup of agave syrup for every one cup of sugar. You should also reduce the liquid ingredients in the recipe by one-third because agave syrup is a liquid sweetener.