Can you use agave instead of honey?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you use agave instead of honey?”, and what are the other substitutes for honey?

Can you use agave instead of honey?

Yes, you can use agave instead of honey. Both honey and agave nectar have a similar texture and sweetness level (4). Therefore, agave nectar or agave syrup can be used in place of honey in a 1:1 ratio. 

Agave is a low-allergy sweetener and is much sweeter than sugar. So, you can cut down on your calorie and carb intake with the same level of sweetness. Agave nectar does in fact contain more calories and grams of sugar than table sugar (sucrose). However, because it’s 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it (5).

In the past two decades, the honey market in the U.S. has shifted significantly from one in which honey production is primarily domestic to one in which more than half of honey is imported. By 2012, that level had decreased by almost 45% to 147 million pounds. Imports correspondingly increased each year from 1969 to 2012, reaching 298 million pounds and accounting for over 66% of the available supplies in 2012 in the U.S. (1).

The manufacturing process of agave and honey 

Agave nectar 

Agave nectar is the fluid extracted from the blue agave plant, the same plant that is used as a raw material for making tequila

The fluid extracted from the plant is filtered to remove the impurities and foreign particles. Then it is heated to break down the complex sugars into simple fructose. 

The resulting sweet liquid is concentrated until it develops a syrup-like consistency. The process of heating may destroy some of the heat-sensitive compounds present in the agave fluid.

The fructose content of agave syrup is much higher than that of high fructose corn syrup, which is of concern since some research has linked high fructose intake to weight gain (especially around the abdominal area), high triglycerides, heart disease and insulin resistance. High fructose corn syrup contains 55% fructose while agave nectar syrup contains 90%. Despite this, it has a low glycemic index because of its low glucose content (2).

Honey 

Honey is manufactured when the bees collect the nectar from different plants and accumulate it in the honeycomb. Raw honey may be consumed as-is or pasteurized to destroy the harmful bacteria, prevent crystallization and improve the keeping quality of honey. Due to its natural antioxidants and their synergic interaction with other components, honey has the potential capacity to serve as an important source of antioxidants in human nutrition and can exhibit beneficial effects on human health, as antitumor and cardiovascular protection (7).

Calories 

A tablespoon of agave nectar and honey roughly provide the same number of calories i.e 64kcal. However, in a study, a portion of 15 mL (or 1 tbsp) of honey was found to contain 87 kcal while of agave 83 kcal (3 ). Both of these sweeteners are sweeter and more nutritious than table sugar.

Glycemic index 

The Glycemic index is a tool that measures how much blood sugar and insulin spike is produced by digesting a certain food (8). 

This is especially helpful for diabetics who should limit their intake of high GI foods. Because these types of foods digest more quickly and result in a surge in blood sugar. The GI value of agave nectar, honey, and table sugar is compared in the table below (6).

Type of sweetener Glycemic Index (GI)
Agave nectar 1158
Honey 5519
Refined white table sugar (sucrose)6860 

Sugar components

Honey comprises 30% glucose and 40% fructose. Other sugars present in the honey in smaller amounts include maltose, sucrose, kojibiose, turanose, isomaltose, and maltulose. 

On the other hand, agave nectar comprises 75-90% fructose. Agave nectar and high fructose corn syrup have a comparable fructose percentage. High fructose consumption has been linked with an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, high triglycerides, fatty liver, and memory loss.

Excessive consumption of fructose puts a strain on the liver that breaks down the fructose into triglycerides. A high triglyceride level in the blood leads to many health complications. It is also the leading cause of belly fat.

Other health benefits 

A moderate intake of honey has numerous health benefits. For example, it reinforces the immune system to fight the symptoms of the common cold. Honey is renowned for its remarkable antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Studies suggest that the effect of honey on wound healing may in part be related to the stimulation of inflammatory cytokines from monocytic cells. Such cell types are known to play an important role in healing and tissue repair (11).

Honey is also a rich source of powerful antioxidants, known as phytochemicals. These antioxidants play a crucial role in combating the oxidative stress that occurs due to the formation of free radicals. 

Moreover, antioxidants delay aging and reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The darker the honey in appearance, the higher the antioxidant content. 

Raw honey, due to minimal processing, retains the maximum amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. However, raw honey should not be fed to children under the age of 1 as it may lead to Botulism (7).

Top alternatives for honey 

Maple syrup 

Maple syrup is a very convenient vegan alternative to honey as it has a similar texture and consistency. It can be used to replace honey in a 1:1 ratio. You can use it in baking, to drizzle over your pancakes, or sweeten your yogurt. Maple syrup contained about six times less phenolic acids that molasses (9).

Brown sugar 

Brown sugar and white sugar are both excellent substitutes for honey in baking. To adjust the consistency and texture, you can caramelize the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Use ½ cup of water for every 3 cups of white or brown sugar for caramelization.

 After the sugarcane is pressed to extract the juice, the juice is then boiled, cooled, and allowed to crystallize into granules. Next, these granules are refined to a light tan color by washing them in a centrifuge to remove impurities and surface molasses (3).

Date paste 

Date paste is a super nutritious plant-based alternative to honey. Blend 1 cup of dates with 2 cups of water to get a thick paste. Use it to replace honey in a 1:1 ratio.

Date sugar is made by grinding dried dates (the fruit of Phoenix dactylifera sp.), which contain 50% to 70% sugar, into a coarse powder. Because the product is the whole fruit it possesses the nutrient profile of dates, including considerable amounts of fiber, minerals, and vitamins (12).

Coconut nectar 

If you are a fan of coconut oil or coconut milk, you would probably love substituting coconut nectar in place of honey. This vegan sweetener comes from coconut leaves and can be used in place of honey in a 1:1 ratio.

Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener produced in Southeast Asia from coconut palm trees. Coconut sugar is produced from the sap of the flower bud stem of coconut trees, although it is sometimes confused with palm sugar, which is made from the sap of palm, date palmor palmyra palm trees. The coconut sap is boiled in large vats until most of the water has evaporated, in a similar process to making maple syrup, to create either a sugar paste or sugar chunks known as “jaggery” (10).

Other FAQs about Agave that you may be interested in.

Can I use agave instead of honey?

Can you substitute agave for honey?

Conclusion

In this article, we answered the question “Can you use agave instead of honey?”, and what are the other substitutes for honey?

References

  1. Strayer, Sarah Easter, Karen Everstine, and Shaun Kennedy. Economically motivated adulteration of honey: quality control vulnerabilities in the International honey market. Food Protec Trend, 2014, 34, 8-14.
  2. Neacsu, N. A., and A. Madar. Artificial sweeteners versus natural sweeteners. Bull Transil Univ Brasov Econ Sci Ser, 2014, 7, 59.
  3. Eggleston, Gillian, et al. Macronutrient and mineral contents in sweet sorghum syrups compared to other commercial syrup sweeteners. J Agric Food Res, 2022, 7, 100276.
  4. González-Montemayor, Angela Mariela, et al. Temperature effect on sensory attributes, thermal and rheological properties of concentrated aguamiel syrups of two Agave species. Measurement: Food, 2022, 100041.  
  5. Smith, J. Is Agave Nectar a Healthier Alternative to Sugar? 2018. University of Illinois.
  6. Foster-Powell, Kaye, Susanna HA Holt, and Janette C. Brand-Miller. International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. Am j clin nutr, 2002, 76, 5-56.
  7. Scepankova, Hana, et al. Conventional and emergent technologies for honey processing: A perspective on microbiological safety, bioactivity, and quality. Comprehen Rev Food Sci Food Safe, 2021, 20, 5393-5420.
  8. Barclay AW, Augustin LSA, Brighenti F, et al. Dietary Glycaemic Index Labelling: A Global Perspective. Nutrients. 2021, 13, 3244. 
  9. St-Pierre, Philippe, et al. Comparative analysis of maple syrup to other natural sweeteners and evaluation of their metabolic responses in healthy rats. j funct foods, 2014, 11, 460-471.
  10. Rogers, Karyne M., et al. Authentication of Indonesian Coconut Sugar Using Stable Carbon Isotopes. Food Anal Method, 2021, 14, 1250-1255.
  11. Tonks, Amanda J., et al. Honey stimulates inflammatory cytokine production from monocytes. Cytokine, 2003, 21, 242-247.
  12. Phillips, Katherine M., Monica H. Carlsen, and Rune Blomhoff. Total antioxidant content of alternatives to refined sugar. J Am Diet Assoc, 2009, 109, 64-71.