Agave nectar is familiar to anyone with a penchant for sweets but striving for a healthy lifestyle. It has recently gained popularity as a go-to liquid sweetener due to its neutral sweetness and low glycemic index. Made from the sap of a desert plant, this sweetener is a great choice to use for baked goods, sauces, salad dressings, marinades, and cocktails.
But what if you don’t stock this versatile sweetener or don’t have the time to pick some up? Well, fret not, as I’ve got you covered with this list of alternatives to agave nectar that you probably already have in your home. These range from natural sweeteners for health-conscious lifestyles to more practical ones that are easier to find. Whatever it may be that piques your interest, my substitutes for agave nectar are just what you need.
How is Agave Nectar Made?
Agave nectar, also known as agave syrup, is created by boiling and processing sap from the agave plant (called maguey). It’s not fermented and thus has no alcohol, making it similar to maple syrup in that way. This plant, a kind of succulent that is indigenous to Mexico, has been used in Central America for over a thousand years and recently gained popularity in the U.S. and Europe.
The nectar is mainly sweet, even more so than other sweeteners like sugar or honey. This all-purpose sweetener has underlying caramel notes and usually comes in three colors – dark, amber, and light. The light one has a very faint to almost no caramel flavor, while the dark has a moderate caramel flavor. While slightly thinner than honey, agave nectar still outperforms maple syrup in terms of viscosity.
Tequila is actually made from agave species, and blue agave specifically. This liquor dates back to 250-300 A.D. and was thought to be used by the Aztecs as a ceremonial wine. Aguamiel, the sap directly from the agave plant, was also believed to have medicinal properties.
When it’s boiled, it produces a sweetener called miel de maguey (agave honey). This type of plant honey is made specifically from the sap, whereas agave nectar is usually made from the starchy root bulb, known as the piña.
With its low glycemic index (10-27) and trace levels of sucrose, agave syrup’s carbohydrates are up to 90% fructose and 10% glucose. Fructose is absorbed by the body much slower than glucose, thus preventing severe insulin spikes that may eventually result in type 2 diabetes.
While it was touted for its vast health benefits when it first entered the global market, experts maintain that agave should be consumed in moderation. This is because the liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose. When this occurs, triglycerides are released into the bloodstream, which can coat the inner walls of arteries and may eventually lead to heart disease.
How to Use Agave Nectar
Agave is a natural sweetener with a unique flavor. Sweeter than sugar, with many similarities to honey, it’s perfect for vegans. Due to its ability to dissolve in a liquid more efficiently than other sweeteners, it’s a great substitute for simple syrup or honey in cold beverages or cocktails.
In savory dishes or baked goods, if substituting agave with other sweeteners, you may want to start with half the original quantity and increase from there. This is because nectar has a more prominent sweetness than most others.
Adjustments may be necessary due to the differences in consistency when used in lieu of other liquid sweeteners in sauces and glazes. Be less generous when dousing pancakes, waffles, or French toast with agave nectar in lieu of maple syrup. Dark agave nectar is the best option for these breakfast treats.
Here are some delicious recipes to try using agave nectar.
- Barbecue Roasted Chicken
- Classic Margarita
- Noodles with Crispy Tofu
- Tapioca Rice Pudding
- Fruit Sorbet
- Lemon Drop Cocktail
7 Best Agave Nectar Substitutes
Agave nectar can be replaced with many sweeteners you’re likely to have in your pantry. Each option listed below is just as sweet and has a similar viscosity. Some function as direct substitutes, in a 1:1 ratio, while others are healthier alternatives or vegan options.
DIY Agave Nectar
When it comes to replacing agave in beverages, this DIY agave nectar is your best choice. Light brown sugar is the secret to this hack; white sugar lacks the depth of sweetness compared to light brown sugar. Don’t use dark brown sugar, as this has too-prominent molasses notes, which may change the overall taste of your syrup.
Mix together 2 parts brown sugar and 1 part water in a saucepan until boiling, then substitute in a 1:1 ratio.
Honey is one of the easiest substitutes for agave. It has a similar sweetness and can easily be used in place of agave nectar in any recipe, from baked goods to marinades. However, it does have a different flavor than agave, with its sweet floral notes, while agave is neutral-tasting but sweeter.
This difference in taste will shift the overall flavor of your dish. But even though honey has a thicker consistency than agave nectar, it can be used as a 1:1 substitution.
This is a household essential for most, so you’ll nearly always be able to make this agave nectar substitute yourself. That’s why this white sugar concoction is one of the most convenient substitutes. With a neutral taste and similar consistency to agave, the simple syrup will keep the sweetness in cocktails or teas without altering the flavors much.
Simple syrup is also really easy to make; all you need is white sugar and water. Plus, it has a long shelf life when stored properly in the fridge. A good rule of thumb is to dissolve equal parts sugar and water in a pan until mixed thoroughly and then cook for several minutes until syrupy.
It can be used in a 1:1 exchange in most recipes, though you may need to add more depending on your desired sweetness.
Maple syrup is a pantry staple, especially in homes with pancake fans. This plant-based sweetener has a similar level of sweetness to agave but also brings its own distinct flavor to the dish. As such, it may not pair well with certain ingredients in some savory recipes, like sauces, dressings, and marinades, so this substitute should be used with caution. Though it can make for a delicious porkchop glaze.
It’s a great replacement for agave in baking, as it lends a nice richness to all sorts of treats. The flavor will end up muted when baked with the other ingredients, so this vegan-friendly option can be used in a 1:1 ratio.
Light Corn Syrup
Light corn syrup is sweeter than honey or maple syrup and comes close to agave’s natural sweetness. It’s a highly processed sweetener made from corn, and both light & regular corn syrups are popularly used for candy making because they’re sweeter than other sugars. Therefore, if you want to keep a strong, sweet taste in your recipe, this may be the substitute for you.
Due to its level of sweetness and thicker consistency, it’s best used as a substitute in baking only. Use corn syrup at a 1:1 exchange.
Brown Rice Syrup
This substitute is a great low-sugar option to sweeten baked goods. Though not as common as sugar or honey, it’s a healthier and viable replacement for agave.
Brown rice syrup has a thin consistency, similar to agave nectar, but much less sweet. The flavor profile is also quite different, so to achieve a similar sweetness to agave, you can double the amount in recipes. Start with a 2:1 ratio, then taste before adding any more.
Coconut nectar has a similar consistency to agave nectar but is less sweet. It comes from the sap of coconut trees and has a prominent coconut flavor. Using brown rice syrup will likely have an effect on the flavor of your recipe. So be mindful.
It won’t work as a substitute in all recipes but works great in baking. It lends a light sweetness without overpowering the other ingredients. Use coconut nectar in place of agave nectar in a 1:1 exchange.