Ania Catalano has been a natural-foods chef, teacher, and consultant for more than 18 years.

What is agave nectar?

A tasty modern sweetener

April 25, 2008

Many of you have seen, heard of, or even tasted agave nectar. But for the rest of you who are saying “Agave what?” here’s a brief history on this new and delicious sweetener, and how I came upon it.

As a whole-foods chef, store owner, and teacher, my life pretty much revolved around new and healthy ingredients I could find for my customers and clients, especially alternative sweeteners to replace refined sugar. My best discovery was finding agave nectar, a natural, organic, low-glycemic sweetener that not only is good for you, but actually tastes great. That was in the mid-1990s, when agave nectar was just beginning its journey to popularity.

So what exactly is agave nectar, and where does it come from?

Agave nectar is a plant-based sweetener made from several different species of the Mexican agave plant, one being the Blue Weber variety, which tequila is also made of. (And no, you won’t get intoxicated after eating agave. Sorry.)

agave nectar
Agave nectar is much sweeter than refined sugar, so use less of it in recipes.

Although agave has a history of being used as a sweet drink by the ancient Mexican Indians, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that its nectar was experimented with and developed into a commercially manufactured sweetener. Agave nectar is liquid, similar to honey but less viscous, and its taste is very mild, slightly caramel-like, with a delicate floral aroma. It’s much sweeter than refined sugar, so when cooking, use 3/4 cup for every cup of sugar called for in a recipe.

Agave nectars are low on the glycemic index (ranging from 19 to 39) due to their high fructose-to-glucose ratio, which means they do not cause insulin levels to spike and crash. So diabetics and people with hypoglycemia (like me) can use agave nectar in moderation as a great substitute for sugar or artificial sweeteners in their diets.

When used in combination with fiber-rich fruits, veggies, and whole-grain flours, agave-sweetened desserts leave you more satisfied with less.

There are 4 comments on this item
Add a comment
1. by Carrie Floyd on Apr 25, 2008 at 9:23 AM PDT

I like using agave nectar for making cocktails, substituting it for simple syrup. It’s especially good in a margarita with fresh squeezed lime and orange juice.

2. by MamaBird/SurelyYouNest on Apr 26, 2008 at 7:27 PM PDT

I got some and liked it, but wish the producers would provide it in a glass bottle for enviro reasons. If you’re able to pass that along, thanks!

3. by Kim on Apr 28, 2008 at 2:10 PM PDT

MamaBird: I was happy to see that our co-op sells agave nectar in bulk now! I don’t know how common that is, however.

4. by coastn on Jun 25, 2009 at 1:54 PM PDT

when using agave nectar (for making cocktails)in place of simple syrup what is the ratio

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [ "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer

Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice