A few weeks ago Dan wrote me an email asking about agave syrup. He had noticed it showing up more and more often in our writing and was wondering why we were so enamored of it. My initial response was what's there not to love about agave syrup?
Agave juice was known to native Mexicans as "honey water". Agave syrup is made mainly from the juices extracted from the core of the agave plant. The juices are either used as they are to create a dark agave syrup, or they are filtered to produce lighter agave syrups. As with any refining process, the filtered juices lose some of their nutritional content and flavor in their metamorphosis to a more neutral flavor. The darker syrups have a deeper, richer flavor with notes of minerals and vanilla. The lighter syrups can be considered more versatile, especially when used in delicately flavored recipes. After the juices are extracted, they are heated to break down the carbohydrates. The main carbohydrate in agave juice is comprised of a complex form of fructose. Once the juice has broken down it is reduced to a syrupy consistency. As with maple syrup, you can find a wide range of agave syrups on the market ranging from a dark, almost molasses like product to a light syrup like the one pictured above.
Since agave syrup is approximately 90% fructose it has a sweeter flavor than granulated sugar. Because it tastes sweeter you do need to add as much to a recipe to obtain the same level of sweetness. This makes it an ideal product for people who are sugar sensitive or watching calories but do not want to resort to artificial sweeteners to satisfy their sugar cravings. Most agave syrups available in the United States are organic, vegan and kosher making them appropriate for almost every one.
Aside from the health benefits, which to be honest are not why we use agave syrup, it has a light viscosity and a high level of solubility. This means that it is easily incorporated into other ingredients regardless of temperature. It is perfect for bar applications as it can be stirred into cold drinks and homogenizes easily. It's shelf stable and does not need to be refrigerated after opening. It can be used as a substitute for corn syrup, maple or molasses in any old fashioned recipes and as an inverted sugar for modern applications. The light syrup provides a clean sweet flavor that is useful for balancing recipes in both sweet and savory applications. The darker syrups lend their own intense flavors to dishes and can be seen as chord of their own. If you do a bit of exploring on the Internet you can find a variety of different agave syrups. We like Madhava for their lighter syrups and we're still experimenting with the darker ones. But if you're looking for an alternative sweetener to play with you should definitely pick up some agave. We love it and hopefully so will you.