Agave is a succulent plant native to Mexico and has been used since the age of the Aztecs. The plant produces a multi-purpose nectar that has found popularity as a sugar substitute and is also a key ingredient in tequila. As it is a natural food, it is able to do things artificial sweeteners cannot, like help foods brown and feed the yeast that makes bread rise.
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Related to aloe vera, the agave plant has a similar look, with long, spiky stalks that are firm on the outside, but juicy and watery on the inside. The insides of the stalks contain long fibers, which are the plant's vascular system and have been used by Native Americans to make rugs and clothes. Though there are over 100 species of agave, the carbohydrate-rich blue agave is most often used for making nectar for use in food.
Agaves must grow for seven to ten years before they mature enough for nectar harvesting. First, the leaves of the agave are removed and the plant's core, which resembles a pineapple, is revealed. Weighing from 50 to 100 pounds, the core, or pina, is drained of its nectar, which is filtered for impurities and slowly heated, turning its carbohydrates into sugar. Both dark and light types of agave nectar are made from the same plant.
Agave nectar, which is one and half times sweeter than sugar, has a flavor similar to that of honey, according to All About Agave, which adds that people who dislike honey might consider agave preferable. The flavor of agave syrup also depends on its color. Light varieties are heated less and put through a more rigorous filtration process, giving them a subtle taste. Dark agave nectar, which is not filtered for solids, has a heavier flavor that resembles maple syrup.
Substitute regular, white sugar with agave syrup in food and drinks to sweeten them naturally. Even though agave is not calorie or carbohydrate free, its significantly sweeter taste means less of it can be used in cooking, making dishes healthier, according to the Dr. Weil website. Stir agave into coffee or tea or mix it into oatmeal or hot cereal to give them a bit of sweetness. The 3 Fat Chicks website suggests drizzling agave on pancakes and waffles instead of syrup.