Agave Nectar Vs. Honey: SPICEography Showdown

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Agave nectar and honey are two popular sweeteners that you should be able to find in your local grocery store. Agave nectar comes from agave sap, which has been used in Central America for millennia and has recently become trendy, while honey is the oldest sweetener used around the world. Beyond that, how do they differ, and what are the best ways to use them? The SPICEography Showdown below will provide some answers.

How does agave nectar differ from honey?

Agave nectar and honey come from different sources. Agave nectar is the heated sap from a kind of agave plant called maguey. Honey is made by bees that extract nectar from plants and chemically alter it in their stomach before depositing it in beehives where much of the water content evaporates.

There are differences in the flavor profiles of agave nectar and honey. For starters, agave nectar is about 50 percent sweeter than honey. Agave nectar and honey are mainly sweet, which is why they are popular all-purpose sweeteners; however, they each have additional notes that accompany their sweetness.

There are three types of agave nectar: dark, light, and medium. The dark has a mild caramel flavor, the light offers very little outside of pure sweetness, and the medium provides an even subtler caramel note. Honey has a floral note to go along with its sweetness, but that note can change depending on the types of flowers the bees used to get their nectar.

Agave nectar has a slightly different consistency from honey. It is thinner and more watery than honey, which is thick and sticky.

Agave and honey have different health effects. Agave nectar is composed of fructose and glucose just like honey, but it is 90 percent fructose, while honey is only about 50 percent fructose. This is important since fructose has a lower glycemic index rating, which means that it is absorbed by the body more slowly than glucose. The slower absorption prevents severe insulin spikes that can result in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

However, fructose is broken down in the liver, which releases triglycerides into the bloodstream. These triglycerides go on to coat the inner walls of arteries and cause heart disease. Honey contains much more glucose, which means that it is absorbed quickly, but it is not broken down in the liver, so it is not as likely to wind up as triglycerides.

Can you use agave nectar as a substitute for honey and vice versa?

Agave nectar can work as a substitute for honey in most dishes and baked goods. It provides a similar sweetness and may even be a better option if you want to avoid the floral honey flavor. Note that the difference in consistency may mean that you will need to adjust other liquids in your recipe. You will also need to use about 50 percent less of it because of its more robust sweetness.

Honey can work as a substitute for agave nectar since it provides an intense sweetness. Keep in mind that it does have a distinctive flavor that you may be able to detect when you use it in place of agave nectar. Also important is the fact that it is thicker and may require adjustments to your recipe. You will need to use about 50 percent more honey to make up for the fact that it is less sweet than agave nectar.

should you use agave nectar, and when should you use honey?

Agave nectar can be in baking and cooking but is best reserved for drinks since it mixes into cold liquids well. Use honey for baking, cooking, or in any application that needs sweetness.