Agave nectar is derived from the agave plant of a botanical genus, which belongs to the family of agavaceae. The plant’s nectar, often called agave syrup, is used as a natural sweetener. Agave plants primarily grow in Mexico, though southern areas of the United States are also capable of producing it. The nectar is cultivated from a number of various agave species.
Agave nectar is often associated with tequila, as tequila is derived from the blue agave. Agave nectar, however, may be obtained from many other agave plants in addition to the blue agave. Another misconception about agave nectar and tequila is that they come from a cactus. Agave plants do look similar to a cactus or yucca, but they are not. Many people refer to the agave plant as “American aloe,” as both the aloe plant and the agave plant are “succulents” — plants that retain liquid.
Sweeter than honey but less gelatinous, agave nectar is often used in tea and other hot and cold beverages, as it dissolves quickly. Other culinary uses might include using it as a topping for pastries and baked goods. Breakfast items — such as waffles or pancakes — that some people regularly top with honey may be topped with agave syrup. Dark agave syrups have a caramel flavor, and are often used in desserts. It is also used as a glaze ingredient for poultry, seafood, or meat dishes.
Agave syrup is generally drawn from agave plants that have reached an age of approximately seven years. Once the plant has ripened, its leaves are cut off to reveal the core. The core — the piña — resembles a huge pineapple, and can weigh approximately 100 pounds (45.36 kg).
Agave sweetener is not sold straight from the agave plant; it goes through a number of processes first. An agave’s sap is first extracted from its core and filtered and heated. At that point, the nectar’s carbohydrates are then broken down into sugars. The primary ingredients of agave nectar are fructose and glucose, with fructose levels generally a great deal higher. Fructose and glucose levels typically depend on which breed of agave plant the nectar is extracted from.
Vegans and raw-foodists are particularly attracted to agave sweetener as a honey substitute. The production process includes heating the syrup at a low temperature to protect its natural enzymes. Thus, agave nectar is often thought of as a raw food.