What is Agave Syrup? The new amber nectar


As you may know here at The Cooking Academy we use Agave syrup in many of our recipes and substitute it for sugar where ever possible. Many of you have asked of its origins and why we use it at all?

Well some of you may know Agave is what tequila is made from! When i say Agave that’s usually the word association.

Agave (pronounced ah-gah-vay) is extracted from a Mexican cactus like plant, in Native Mexico its sap is referred to as honey water. In fact it tastes quite similar to honey and though I personally find honey unpalatable, it is more pleasant than honey, and neither does it have the bitter after taste of artificial sweetners.

When buying it, the darker the syrup the strong the flavour and sweeter it is. You need to almost use half the quantity of Agave syrup to sugar or even honey. The great news is that the Glycemic Index of Agave is 5 times lower than regular granulated sugar. Oddly enough in terms of straight forward calories it contain 5 calories more per teaspoon than sugar – but remember Agave, like honey is sweeter so you use less. (I will go on to discuss the Glycemic Index impact in further detail)

Agave has great history dating back further than the Aztecs who considered it a gift from the gods to sweeten their food. As we begin to understanding its chemical properties the health conscious amongst us, as well as doctors and foodies are beginning to favour Agave over sugar. For altogether a different purpose some beverage companies are beginning to use Agave because it dissolves quickly in cold liquid, though it is an expensive commodity compared to sugar

The medicinal properties of Agave

Agave has been used for centuries by the Aztecs to dress wounds and as a balm for skin infections, the addition of salt to Agave increases it anti-microbial properties; this has now been confirmed by modern research into Agave by various institutes at Toronto University Hospital and the USA, who have demonstrated its effectiveness against intestinal bacteria.

For me the relevance of Agave lies in its glycemic measure which is relatively low compared to many other sweeteners including sugar, by this I mean that rate at which it raises the blood sugar level and triggers the release of the hormone, insulin. Excessive release of insulin, or high blood sugar levels can lead to a number of complex health problems such as type II diabetes, abdominal weight gain, obesity, raised cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The advantage Agave has over sugar is essentially that the sweetness comes from fructose, which is sugar that occurs naturally in fruit and vegetables which in turn gives the the carbohydrate in Agave syrup a significantly lower glycemic index, thus not having the sugar rush and the unhealthy blood spike that you get from sugar. Remember it is the rate at which sugar is released in the body from the food we eat that matters – not necessarily the number of calories it contains.

So whilst the main body of research remains to be released, watch this space, i suspect the news will be pretty positive. In the mean time my money is on the Agave Syrup.

Written by Kumud Gandhi – Writer, Broadcaster and Founder of The Cooking Academy, a cookery school that puts the focus on medicinal value of ingredients at the heart of everything they teach . for further information contact Kumud at


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