Like tequila, agave nectar is produced from the sap of the agave plant, a native of Mexico. Since this versatile sweetener is rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S., you’ll find it on more and more supermarket shelves. It’s a vegan-friendly alternative to honey, and it has a minimal effect on blood sugar thanks to its low glycemic index. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, agave’s glycemic index value is about five times lower than that of table sugar. An amber-hued, unfiltered agave nectar is available, with a slight caramel flavor; the more neutral-tasting light agave nectar, which is filtered, is ideal as a sugar substitute when sweetening hot and cold beverages.
Like honey, agave nectar is sweeter than sugar, which allows you to use less and still achieve the same level of sweetness. As a general rule, use one-third less agave nectar than you would white sugar, and reduce other liquids in the recipe by one-fourth. Substitute agave nectar for sugar to create moist, soft-textured baked goods; one cup of granulated sugar can be replaced by 2/3 cup of agave nectar. Like honey, agave nectar may cause baked goods to brown faster, so oven temperatures may need to be reduced.
As with maple syrup or honey, agave nectar can be drizzled on hot cereal, toast or fruit. You can add it to vinaigrettes in place of honey or sugar, and use it to sweeten fruit salads and fruit-based desserts. And since it blends instantly with cold liquids, you can skip making simple syrup on the stovetop and use agave instead in icy beverages like iced tea, cocktails, and lemonade. To make 4 one-cup servings of agave lemonade, combine ½ cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice, 1/3 cup of agave nectar and 3 cups of water in a pitcher. Stir, pour over ice and serve.