Since certain types of sugar and honey are off-limits to most vegans, it can be difficult to find an animal-free sweetener to swap recipes and add to drinks. Enter: agave. This plant-based sweetener is completely vegan as it is obtained from the agave plant and no animal ingredients are used in its production.
Agave has a very distinctive taste that is more reminiscent of thin honey or corn syrup than sugar (in fact, it actually is) sweeter than table sugar) and is available in both light and dark versions.
Light agave is more filtered and processed with less heat, giving it a milder, more neutral taste that is better suited for lighter desserts, baking, and adding to beverages.
Dark agave (also known as amber agave) has a stronger, richer taste and can sometimes be a bit thicker, giving it a taste closer to brown sugar, caramel, or molasses.
Why agave is usually vegan
Agave is made from agave plants that accumulate non-structural carbohydrates in the sap of their stem and core that are extracted to make the sweet syrup.
There is three different methods of making agave syrup. The traditional method is to heat the juice in pots that are placed directly on a heat source and kept there until the water has evaporated, creating a thick syrup with concentrated sugar.
The second method is a semi-industrial process that uses high pressure heat while controlling certain variables like pH and temperature. The third process is highly industrial, using all of the agave pine and more sophisticated mechanical technology to extract the carbohydrates and hydrolyze them with enzymes or acid instead of heat.
Since the ingredients are completely vegetable and no animals are involved in the production, agave is considered vegan.
Agave syrup should always contain 100% pure agave and never contain additives or other sources of sugar.
Did you know already?
Agave syrup is made from the same type of plant as tequila. The leaves of agave, considered a by-product of tequila production, are rich in bioactive compounds that have been shown to be antimicrobial, antifungal, and antioxidant anti-inflammatory properties.
Agave plants have also been shown to respond positively to climate change themselves and have developed properties that enable them to survive extreme heat and drought. They also control soil erosion and serve as a food source for many different pollinators. As a result, researchers are exploring agave plants as a potential alternative source of food and bioenergy.
The long-nosed bat controversy
The Mexican long-nosed bat, classified as Endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the states of Texas and New Mexico, and the Mexican Endangered Species Act, are major pollinators that rely on the flowers of agave plants for a source of nectar.
Some activists have cited the large-scale agave harvest as a factor contributing to the decline in bats, although many conservationists claim the exact reasons behind this decline are not understood completely. Recreational efforts are ongoing throughout the species’ range, with more than 50,000 agaves planted in the bat habitats in northern Mexico alone.
Products that contain agave
Agave syrup can be used in all applications that require the use of added sugars, including beverages and baked goods. Since agave is vegan in its pure form, anyone on a vegan diet just needs to look at other ingredients in the products to see if they are suitable for their diet or not.
Agave is regularly used as a sugar substitute in marshmallows, candy, chewing gum, and chocolate, as well as in baked desserts like cookies, cakes, and sweet bread. It’s also common to see agaves added to muesli, cereals, snacks, energy bars, and jams.
While many people choose agave in their morning cup of coffee instead of sugar or honey, commercial brands also use it in juices, sodas, and energy drinks.
Agave is a popular sweetener for smoothies and fresh juices, but has also gained importance in craft cocktails as it traditionally goes well with tequila.
frequently asked Questions
Is Raw Agave Vegan?
Most agaves are heated during the production process. However, there are also varieties of agave syrup that go through a raw manufacturing process without excessive heat and are labeled as such. Raw agave is also vegan.
Can you replace honey with agave?
Agave and honey are so similar in taste and texture that they can usually be used interchangeably in most recipes.
How to store agave syrup
Agave does not need to be refrigerated, but it should be stored out of direct sunlight to maintain freshness.