The New York Times had a great article last week by Kim Severson, Sugar Is Back on Food Labels, This Time as a Selling Point. After all, sugar is natural, and eating naturally is becoming increasingly popular. And sugar’s biggest competition, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), has gained such a bad reputation lately that even soft drink companies are taking out the HFCS and replacing it with sugar to appeal to consumers.
To some extent, I get this. I will buy products with sugar, and there are very few products with HFCS that I’m willing to still purchase. But sugar, while natural, still has its health problems and needs to be used sparingly.
One of the products that I’ve started using is agave nectar, also called agave syrup, as an alternative to sugar. Agave nectar is similar to honey or maple syrup, and it’s the product of sap of an Agave plant that grows in Southern Mexico.
Agave nectar is usually sold as either light agave or dark agave (usually just referred to as agave). The light version has a more neutral flavor and is good to use in baking and cooking. The darker version is stronger and is great to use to as a pancake syrup or to lightly pour on something liked cooked oats. There are many organic brands of agave.
According to allaboutagave.com, agave nectar is similar to other natural sugars with one exception.
its glycemic index is significantly lower. This makes it a healthier alternative to many processed AND natural sweeteners, including:· white granulated sugar· brown sugar· demerara or turbinado sugar· maple sugar crystals· dehydrated cane juice· date sugar
Agave is about 40 percent sweeter than sugar, so you shouldn’t substitute equal amounts of agave for sugar in recipes or when using it to sweeten tea or coffee (I like it in tea, not so crazy about it in coffee). You can see a guide for substituting, here.
Trader Joe’s has an agave/maple syrup blend that I’ve started using as an alternative to pancake syrup. It’s got agave, maple syrup and cane sugar in it. When compared to the ingredients in traditional pancake syrup*, it’s a much better choice. It’s also much less expensive than pure maple syrup.
I use it all by itself, but my boys were resistant to the change. So I started giving them half pancake syrup and half of the agave/maple syrup in a little pitcher. I’ve been able to reduce the amount of pancake syrup to ¼ and use ¾ agave/maple syrup, and they haven’t noticed. Yes, I’m secretly changing it on them. Moms get to do that sometimes.
* Ingredients in Aunt Jemima: CORN SYRUP, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WATER, CELLULOSE GUM, CARAMEL COLOR, SALT, SODIUM BENZOATE AND SORBIC ACID (PRESERVATIVES), ARTIFICIAL AND NATURAL FLAVORS, SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE.