The term “nectar” is used to refer to several different things. In a botanical sense, it is a very rich, sweet liquid secreted by plants. In the world of cooking, nectar is a form of fruit juice which can take a range of forms, depending on the style in which it is made. Many people associate the term with undiluted fruit juices which tend to be very sweet and very rich, much like the plant liquids they are named for.
The word comes from the Greek nektar, which means “drink of the gods.” Nectar is also known as ambrosia, and according to Greek mythology, it was a drink which provided complete nutrition, and the people who drank it became immortal. People often associate this liquid with sweet, rich, luxurious juices which are almost too intense to drink alone as a result of the classical meaning.
Any number of fruits can be used to produce nectar, although tropical fruits like mangoes and guavas are very popular. You can also find it made from naturally sweet and juicy fruits like peaches and apricots. When produced as an undiluted juice, it is made by pressing the fruit concerned, and it often includes some of the pulp, making the result very thick. This type of nectar is used in mixed drinks to provide a note of sweetness, and it can also be diluted with water or soda and drunk plain.
However, nectar doesn't necessarily have to be undiluted juice. A number of companies in the United States produce products that are diluted with a range of substances, using the label to take advantage of United States Department of Agriculture requirements which state that nectar must contain 25-50% juice, while “fruit juice” must typically contain a higher percentage of actual fruit. These varieties are often heavily sweetened, making them less sound nutritional choices than plain juice or undiluted nectars.
Many people find nectar quite refreshing, especially when it is served cold on a hot day. Adventurous cooks can try blending it with iced tea for a distinctive drink, or serving it with scoops of ice cream to make a fruit-based form of the beloved root beer float. When purchasing nectar at the market, you should inspect the label carefully, to ensure that you are getting the kind you want, as you do not want to be surprised by one with a low fruit content.