Wondering if you can substitute agave nectar for honey? The answer is yes! Read on to find out how!
So many recipes call for honey these days! This is partly because of honey's supposed health benefits, but also because sometimes it's just convenient to use a liquid sweetener. Liquid sweeteners like honey add both sweetness and moisture to baked goods, don't require dissolving when mixed with liquids, and can add a unique flavor to all sorts of dishes from desserts to hot beverages to salad dressings!
But if you're following a vegan diet, honey is off the table. (Bees are animals too!) It's also not recommended to give honey to infants under the age of one. And in some cases, you might just not have any honey on hand.
If any of these instances apply to you, you're probably in need of a honey substitute. So here comes the big question:
Yes, you absolutely can substitute agave nectar for honey in almost any recipe, with a few small exceptions.
What is Agave Nectar?
Agave is a syrup derived from the blue agave plant, which is a variety of succulent that grows in the desert. Because of this, it's considered a natural sweetener.
Fun fact: The blue agave plant is also used to make tequila!
To make agave syrup, the nectar, or sap within the leaves of the plant is extracted, then heated in order to distill the liquid into a syrup.
Agave vs. Honey
Agave and honey are both natural liquid sweeteners, and they have very similar properties, including about the same texture and thick, yet pourable consistency. Honey is generally slightly thicker than agave. I say generally because raw honey is an exception. Raw honey is much thicker than pasteurized honey (which is the type you'll usually find on store shelves), so you may not be able to substitute agave in recipes that specifically call for raw honey.
Sweetness & Flavor
Agave and honey have about the same levels of sweetness. Both contain about 60 calories per tablespoon, all of which come from sugars (neither contains any fat, protein, or fiber).
Agave also has a more neutral flavor than honey, and you'll find it's flavor and appearance to be consistent across different brands and varieties. Honey, on the other hand, can be produced from a variety of flowers, each resulting in a slightly different flavor and color.
Honey and agave vary a bit nutritionally. Honey is compose of almost equal amounts of fructose and glucose (about 60% fructose and 40% glucose), whereas the sugar in agave is almost all fructose (80%, with 20% coming from glucose). Fructose and glucose are both simple sugars, but fructose doesn't raise blood sugar levels as much or as rapidly as glucose. Because of this, agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than honey.
Because of it's low glycemic index and the fact that it is a natural product, agave is often marketed as a healthy alternative to honey and other sweeteners, but research done in recent years indicates that this may not be the entire picture, as it can raise triglycerides similarly to other sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup.
Small quantities of agave nectar should be fine if you're healthy, keeping in mind that too much sugar of any type isn't a great thing. It's probably a good idea consult your doctor or nutritionist if you plan on consuming much agave.
Where to Buy
You should be able to find both agave and honey at the grocery store (probably right next to each other), in the baking or sweeteners section.
How to Substitute Agave for Honey
Honey can be replaced by directly substituting it with agave in equal measure. This means that for every cup of honey a recipe calls for, use one cup of agave nectar instead. Or for every tablespoon of honey called for, use a tablespoon of agave nectar. You get the picture!
Other Honey Alternatives
Agave is one of the best substitutes for honey in my experience, but if you'd like to experiment with some other plant-based liquid sweeteners, here are a few of your best options:
- Maple Syrup. Maple syrup is about as sweet as honey, and not quite as thick. While it is a great substitute for honey most of the time, it does have a distinctive flavor that may be detectable in some recipes.
- Coconut Nectar. Coconut nectar is another good alternative that can be directly substituted for honey in most recipes, though it has a flavor that's slightly different from honey's.
- Brown Rice Syrup. Brown rice syrup can substituted for honey in only a few instances. It's much thicker than honey and includes a variety of both micro and macronutrients that you won't find in honey.
- Date Syrup. Date syrup is a good option if you're looking for a natural honey substitute with a good nutritional profile. It's quite a bit darker than honey and has a distinctive flavor, so it's use as a honey substitute is somewhat limited.
- Molasses. Most of us are probably familiar with the distinct, intense flavor and dark color of molasses. Molasses is available in multiple forms including unsulfured molasses which is probably familiar to most of us, and the more intense, micronutrient rich blackstrap molasses. Again, this one can only be used to replace honey in a few instances.
- Simple Syrup. When you need a quick liquid sweetener and don't have anything else on hand, simply dissolve some granulated sugar in water.
- Table Sugar. Obviously this isn't a liquid sweetener like all of the other options. But if all you need is to add some sweet flavor to hot beverages, regular sugar works just as well as agave! Make sure your sugar is organic, otherwise it might not be vegan.
I never recommend using artificial sweeteners. They don't make good honey substitutes, aren't very healthy, and generally taste pretty terrible.
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