What Is Agave Nectar?

Agave Nectar
Agave nectar. sf_foodphoto/E+/Getty Images

Agave nectar, or agave syrup, is a sweetener used in food and drinks. It is often used as a substitute for sugar, simple syrup, honey and molasses. It can be an alternative sweetener for vegans (instead of honey) and for those who need to watch their sugar intake because it has a lower glycemic index than sugar. It is becoming more popular to use in cocktails as a "healthy" sweetener.

The flavor of agave nectar is unique.

It is sweeter than sugar and similar to honey, though it does have a more neutral flavor than honey. It also lacks the bitter aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.

Agave nectar can be found in many grocery and heath food stores.

How Is Agave Nectar Made?

This nectar is made from the juice of the agave plant. As in the production of tequila, agave nectar begins with 7-10 year old agave plants in Mexico from which the pinas are harvested. The juice, or sap, is extracted, filtered, then heated slowly at low temperatures until the carbohydrates are broken down into sugar.

Also like tequila, the best agave nectars are the products of blue agave and labels will clearly state if that nectar is "100% Blue Agave." There are also "certificate of origin" laws for agave nectar, though that is where the similarities with tequila end. Agave nectar is alcohol-free.

Grades of Agave Nectar

Similar to other syrups, agave nectar is available in a range of color and flavor intensity.

The lighter grades look similar to simple syrup and are best for lightly flavored cocktails like the Rosangel Margarita and Vodka Sour because the flavor is almost transparent. The dark agave nectars have not been filtered as thoroughly and have a stronger flavor near the intensity of honey. Those can be mixed with strong flavored drinks such as Dulce de Tequila and many of the fruity Margaritas.

The darkest nectar is likened to molasses.

Substituting Agave Nectar for Simple Syrup

Agave nectar is said to be 1 1/2 times sweeter than sugar and it can be used in almost any cocktail that calls for simple syrup. The recipe needs to be adapted to make up for that additional sweetness.

It is usually best to cut the amount of syrup by 1/2 to 1/4 of that suggested when using agave nectar. For example, if a recipe asks for 1 tablespoon of simple syrup, you would use 1/2-3/4 tablespoon of agave nectar, depending on your personal taste.

Adjusting Agave Nectar

If agave nectar is too sweet for you, you may want to water it down. Do this by mixing the nectar and distilled water at a 1:1 ratio and stirring until completely mixed. Some recipes will also ask you to mix the agave nectar with another liquid such as the Borrachon Cocktail, which uses balsamic vinegar and nectar to create an interesting syrup.

Agave nectar can also be infused with flavor in a manner similar to flavored simple syrups. Some flavorings, such as cinnamon, can simply be mixed into (ground cinnamon) or infused into (cinnamon sticks) a desired amount of nectar and used in drinks like the Homecoming Caipirinha. Another flavoring may want to use a water infusion method similar to this Spa Nectar to ensure a full flavor.

Agave Nectar Cocktails

It may be rather obvious that agave nectar is ideal in cocktails with tequila, though it also pairs nicely with most other spirits. As the Coriandrum and Organic Sensation cocktails (links below) demonstrate, agave nectar can also be infused with flavors and is great to have around for something as simple as sweetening a cup of tea.