Agave nectar and maple syrup are two liquid sweeteners that are sometimes promoted as being healthy sugar alternatives. How healthy are they? Is one better for you than the other? Let’s compare them in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does agave nectar differ from maple syrup?
Agave nectar and maple syrup come from different sources. Maple syrup comes from the saps of various kinds of maple trees including sugar, red, and black maple trees. Maple trees can be found all over the world but grow mainly in cooler climates. The sap is removed from the trees and collected in tanks before being boiled and reduced to concentrate its sweetness and other flavors.
Agave nectar comes from the sap of the agave plant. Agave plants are native to the hotter parts of South America. The agave sap is extracted from the core of the plant and filtered before being boiled and concentrated.
Agave nectar and maple syrup contain different proportions of sugars and have different effects on health. The main health-related difference has to do with the types of sugars they contain.
Agave nectar contains a high proportion of fructose. Fructose is mostly metabolized in the liver so agave nectar does not cause the blood sugar spikes that you see with other common sweeteners that contain high levels of another sugar: glucose. This does not mean that agave nectar is a healthy sweetener. The liver converts the fructose to triglycerides that can wind up clogging arteries.
Most of the sugar in maple syrup comes from sucrose, which can cause major blood sugar spikes. Sucrose is made up of both fructose and glucose in equal amounts. As a result, it has the negative effects of both sugars and causes both fat production in the liver and potentially dangerous blood sugar spikes.
Agave nectar and maple syrup do not taste the same. Agave nectar is much sweeter than maple syrup, which means that you will need only a small amount to get a similar level of sweetness as a large amount of maple syrup. All agave nectar will be primarily sweet with an accompanying caramel note in the darker varieties. The darker the agave nectar, the stronger the caramel note.
Maple syrup is also mainly sweet but has a much stronger flavor along with its sweetness. The maple flavor is a distinctive blend of caramel, toffee, and vanilla with nutty hints.
Can you use agave nectar as a substitute for maple syrup and vice versa?
Agave nectar’s main flavor profile is its sweetness so it can work as a maple syrup substitute — if all you want is sweetness and don’t care about missing out on the maple flavor notes. Use one of the darker varieties to get something that offers more than just sweetness. Because it is much sweeter than maple syrup, start with half of what your recipe recommends and increase to taste if necessary.
Maple syrup can work as an agave nectar substitute as long as you are okay with its strong maple flavor. That flavor will work in many applications that require agave nectar but may be overpowering and unpleasant in others.
When should you use agave nectar and when should you use maple syrup?
Agave nectar has a more neutral taste than maple syrup, making it a more versatile sweetener. Use it as an all-purpose sweetener replacing white sugar.
Maple syrup’s distinctive taste makes it best suited for its traditional role as a breakfast sweetener, used at the table as a topping for waffles and pancakes.