In the GetFresh kitchen, we don’t use butter, or honey, or standard refined sugar. We avoid eggs most of the time, and skip the cream, milk, and beef broths. In some situations this is merely to reduce unhealthy fats or sugars, or to keep calories in check. In other situations, the sole purpose is to keep the main heart of a dish vegan.

Which is why we started using Agave.

What is Agave?

Well, for starters, the agave plant is native to the southern U.S. and South America. It is a succulent that has a slightly sticky “sap” within the center that is harvested to make true tequila.

The sap is also traditionally used to make the old-school sweetener miel de agave. Unlike today’s agave nectar, traditional miel de agave is made much the same way as real maple syrup, but it from the agave plant instead of a maple tree. The stuff we see on shelves is quite difference. When you see labels for 100% Organic/ Raw/ Blue/ All-Natural Agave at the grocery store, you’re getting a product that is definitely not raw or all natural.

Store-Bought Agave “Nectar” Syrup

Also called agave nectar, this sweet and sticky syrup is often confused with miel de agave. Store-bought agave nectar is nothing like this traditional miel. This syrup is actually a highly processed concentration of fructose. It is highly refined, and actually contains more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup.

For the last several decades, agave nectar has been touted as a healthy sweetener for diabetics, since it is low on the glycemic index when compared to other sweeteners.

Sweetener Glycemic Index
High-Fructose Corn Syrup 90
Sugar 65
Molasses 55
Maple Syrup 54
Honey (raw) 50
Dates/Date Syrup 42
Agave 15

Sources: Harvard Health Publications, Glycemic Index, Sugar and Sweetener Guide

Note: Glycemic index numbers can be a bit misleading since they don’t account for serving size. However, since we’re looking at these as 1:1 replacements in recipes, the index is sufficient.

Although this method of rating sugars has been popular over the last 5-10 years, we’ve learned that there are many more factors to consider. Namely, the source, and the level of processing are major factors to consider.

Fructose: What to Know

Though agave is low on the glycemic index, it is incredibly high in fructose. Fructose is a type of natural sugar that often binds to glucose (to form sucrose), and is found in fruits and honey. Although it is natural, it is one of the three dietary sugars that are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Fructose is digested solely in the liver, where it is then immediately turned into triglycerides or stored as fat, rather than turned into glucose.

Agave is highly concentrated fructose; in fact, it contains more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup! As one writer put it,

“Agave syrup (nectar) is basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as a health food.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Concentrated fructose is definitely not found anywhere in nature, and shouldn’t be called a natural product. Agave nectar was developed in the 1990s primarily as a low-GI sweetener.

We all know that it is important to reduce our sugar intake, and to get it from natural sources, and following the outdated glycemic index can take you down the wrong path.

When we were looking to sweeteners for our earlier recipes, agave was the only one we found that was acceptable for diabetics and vegans, but that’s simply not the case anymore! Plus, we, like many others, fell victim to marketing claims. After research, and trial and error, we’ve stopped using agave and have replaced it with all-natural homemade date syrup in all of our recipes.

So, if you’ve got a bottle of (expensive) agave syrup/nectar sitting in your pantry, what are you going to do with it? Fructose does funny things to the brain, so we suggest you take 5 seconds to mourn the $9.99 you spent, and then toss it in the trash.

Related Sources:

Is Agave Nectar Good or Bad? (foodrenegade.com)

Debunking the Blue Agave Myth (huffingtonpost.com)

Agave: Why We Were Wrong (blog.doctoroz.com)

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