Agave nectar is a sweetener that is made from the sap of the agave plant that is extracted, filtered, and then heated. The sap that is used for sweetening comes from the pina, which is the core of the plant. After being processed, agave nectar becomes a viscous and amber-colored liquid that you can use to sweeten a range of food items. There are some health concerns about this sweetener, and it may not always be easy to find. If you want to try an alternative, consider one of the agave nectar substitutes below.
Your best bet: Corn syrup
Corn syrup comes from a completely different plant from the agave plant and is made with a very different method. It is made from cornstarch, which is the endosperm of the corn kernel. Despite its differences, it provides a similar neutral sweetness to that of agave nectar. When making this substitution, it is important to consider the health effects of these sweeteners.
While corn syrup contains a mix of fructose and glucose, it contains more glucose. Glucose has a higher glycemic index rating than fructose, so it causes severe spikes in insulin. Those spikes are believed to be a factor in insulin sensitivity and type 2 diabetes. If you want corn syrup that contains more fructose, you can opt for high fructose corn syrup. Fructose won’t spike blood sugar as severely but can increase your risk of heart disease.
You can use corn syrup as a 1:1 substitute in any recipe that calls for agave nectar. Corn syrup has the benefit of being more affordable and may be easier to find in most places.
A decent second choice: Honey
While insects make it, honey is still a plant-based sweetener like agave nectar. Bees make honey using nectar from flowers, which they store in their stomachs and then deposit in their hives until much of its water has evaporated. It is a liquid sweetener, and its flavor profile is primarily sweet, which are a couple of the factors that make it a particularly good agave nectar substitute.
Honey does have a floral flavor, which means that it is not as neutral a sweetener as agave nectar. The flavor is usually light, so you may not notice it in everything, but it will alter the taste of some beverages and baked goods.
In a pinch: Maple syrup
Like agave nectar, maple syrup is entirely plant-based. It is the reduced sap of the maple tree. It is another liquid sweetener with a somewhat viscous consistency. Because they have similar consistencies and sweetness levels, you can use maple syrup as a 1:1 substitute for agave nectar in most recipes.
The main drawback of using maple syrup in place of agave nectar is its flavor. While the maple syrup flavor is pleasant, it is strong and distinctive. Its caramel and vanilla notes will be recognizable in many recipes that require agave nectar.
Simple syrup consists of equal parts water and sugar. The mixture is heated until it dissolves and is completely clear. You can use simple syrup in many of the cocktails and other beverages that require agave nectar.
White sugar will provide only sweetness so it can make an effective substitute for agave nectar in some cases. Of course, it won’t contain any moisture, so you will have to compensate by increasing the amounts of other liquids in the recipe.