Singer, sailor, editor, and call-center wage slave, Jim is also an occasional baker.
Are All Natural Sweeteners Created Equal?
Vegans! Nature lovers! Tree huggers! Lend me your taste buds! Well, the taste buds of your mind, if you will.
For the next several hundred words we will sample the two leading natural alternatives to refined white sugar; namely, agave nectar and honey. The difference between these two sweeteners may seem slight at first sniff, but there are some fine points to be considered in evaluating agave nectar vs. honey.
Honey vs. Agave Nectar
It's more than a simple matter of taste. Actually, the flavors of honey and agave nectar are not all that different. Agave nectar may lean more toward caramel and maple syrup, while quality locally produced honey often takes on subtle taste variations depending on what plants were visited by the bees who produced the honey.
Those bees are perhaps the primary difference between the two sweeteners. Strict vegans do not consume honey. Agave nectar comes from the agave plant, and no animals other than human hands are involved in its production. Additionally, agave nectar is less likely to trigger allergic reactions than honey which may contain any number of traces of pollen depending on where it was made.
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Agave nectar tends toward a lower glycemic index than other sweeteners, making it somewhat more useful for people with diabetes. As in all things relating to diet, however, people with diabetes should consult with their doctor concerning agave nectar or any other sweetener.
How to Substitute Agave Nectar for Honey
In addressing substitutions I offer no opinion on which product is better. Such a distinction is highly subjective and based primarily on individual taste. Only you can determine by experience with both which is better for you.
Honey and agave nectar are close enough in sweetness that a simple 1-to-1 substitution works in most cases. That is, if your recipe calls for one cup of honey, substitute one cup of agave nectar.
- Sweetening drinks: I have never cared for using honey to sweeten drinks. Honey dissolves extremely poorly in cold drinks, and it lends its flavor to both hot and cold drinks. Light agave nectar, the mildest of three varieties, performs on a par with refined sugar, dissolving easily in all liquids regardless of temperature and imparting no taste of its own.
- Cooking and baking: Again, 1:1 substitution is the rule of thumb in most recipes. If in doubt, use slightly less agave nectar than you would honey. Agave nectar is not as thick as honey which may or may not be a factor in blending some sauces and salad dressings. Add in other liquids gradually as it may require less of one to reach the same overall consistency. Liquidity should not be a factor in most recipes, however.
Using agave nectar in baking usually needs a lower temperature to avoid over-browning and/or a slightly burnt taste. Reduce the recommended oven setting by 25% and increase the baking time slightly.
The Last Word(s)
Cooking is about dishes you love and preparing those dishes for the people you love. A big part of that is experimentation in the kitchen, tweaking recipes to bring your own personal touch and preferences. Working with either honey or agave nectar is always preferable to using refined white sugar, so unless you are under dietary or lifestyle restrictions, get out in the kitchen and bring both to the table!
© 2013 Jim Miller