Agave Nectar (or Syrup)

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

agave nectar (or syrup) is a sweetener made from agaves. The agaves are a genus of succulent plants, native to the Americas, with most species concentrated in Mexico. In the United States they are best known as ornamental garden plants and the source of tequila, which is made by expressing the liquid from the cooked core, piña, of Agave tequilana, fermenting the solution, and distilling it.

Patents for commercial production of agave sweeteners date from the 1980s. In the mid-1990s entrepreneurs began marketing agave nectar as an ancient, natural, raw health food, high in fructose and with a low glycemic index. Consumers seeking a less refined, less glucose-dense sweetener than cane or beet sugar, particularly those who adhered to a “Paleolithic” diet, enthusiastically adopted the syrup. Agave syrup’s aura declined as scientists and physicians argued that it is neither ancient nor significantly different from other calorific sweeteners in its chemical and dietary properties. See sugar and health. Various brands of agave nectar continue to be widely available in health food stores and supermarkets.