Most vegetarians with a sweet tooth constantly search for the next vegetarian-friendly sweetener to add to their diet.
Different sugar substitutes are perfectly suitable for vegetarian consumption, and agave syrup is among the most popular ones. It has found its way into a lot of vegetarian and vegan recipes, but some might still ask the question is agave vegetarian?
Simply put, agave is vegetarian and its syrup is an excellent sugar substitute for vegetarians and vegans alike. However, there might be more to it than meets the eye, so it's worth it to get a better understanding of agave.
How to Define Vegetarian
According to the Vegetarian Society, a vegetarian is a person whose diet consists of grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Some vegetarians might include dairy products or even eggs, but meat is—of course—out of the question.
Following the same plant-friendly line, it should be easy to connect the dots. Agave is a plant and the juice that is extracted from it can’t be an animal-based product. Therefore, if anybody asks you, "Is agave vegetarian?" your answer should be simple and straightforward—yes it is.
Beyond this simple answer, it pays to delve a little deeper and find out more about the origins and types of agave and its syrup.
Where Does the Agave Syrup Come From?
Agave is a monocot native to Southern America and some regions in the Caribbean. It is quite a versatile plant that has been cultivated for different purposes. The main reason people harvest agave is for the juice that the plant produces. This juice is then processed into a mescal liquor or agave syrup.
Two different types of the agave plant, agave tequilana, and agave samilana, are used to obtain the agave juice. The juice comes from the plant leaves and is then processed into the syrup or the so-called agave nectar. In most cases, the processing is completely natural and doesn’t involve any additives or emulsifiers.
There are vegan recipes that even include raw agave. This means that the juice hasn’t undergone heat treatment above 117°F. Raw agave is the way to go for some hardcore vegans, since it involves even less processing than the agave syrup. Therefore, not only is agave vegetarian, but it is also vegan.
The agave syrup is about 1.6 times sweeter than sugar. It is also a much healthier alternative because it has a very low glycemic index value. However, agave still has a lot of fructose, so you should add it to your vegetarian dishes in moderate amounts.
Different Varieties of Agave Syrup
There are more than a few different varieties of agave. The basic distinguishing factor is the color and the flavor that changes with the color. As a rule, the darker the agave syrup the stronger it will taste. The light colored syrup is an excellent general-purpose vegetarian sweetener, while the dark syrup works really well for baking and dark desserts like vegetarian chocolate pudding.
The color and taste differ because of the different filtration processes. Namely, the agave sap contains minerals and salts that end up in the syrup in different quantities depending on the filtration process. The most common agave color categories include raw, light, amber, and dark.
Amber agave tastes a lot like honey and can also be used as a general-purpose sweetener despite its dark color. It works quite well in vegetarian smoothies, protein drinks, and as a tasty addition to tea. On top of that, amber agave syrup might be the best option for cooking and baking due to its relatively moderate taste.
You should know that your vegetarian cookies or other baked goodies will come out of the oven a bit darker when you use agave instead of sugar. Agave can also be used for vegetarian candies to replace corn syrup. Some even speculate that vegan caramels taste better with agave than with corn.
How Healthy Is Agave Syrup?
The more important question is whether agave is a healthy sugar substitute. In general, agave is considered a healthy substitute when consumed in moderation. The syrup extraction process involves heating and filtering of the sap extracted from the leaves and there is almost no further processing.
Unlike some other sweeteners, agave contains a certain amount of nutrients. There are traces of vitamins B6, E, K, A, and C in one teaspoon of agave, as opposed to zero nutrients in one teaspoon of white sugar. An agave teaspoon also contains about 21 calories, which is slightly more than white sugar.
However, the amount of nutrients is not the primary reason agave syrup is considered healthy. The low glycemic index is the reason why agave is widely used as a healthy sugar substitute. For comparison purposes, organic honey has a glycemic index value of 58 while agave has 13. But what does this all mean, and why is the glycemic index value so important?
To put thing simply, a low glycemic index value won’t cause spikes in your blood sugar level that are followed by a tiring crash. On top of that, diets that include lots of low glycemic index foods have a positive effect on insulin levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Agave syrup also has a positive effect on your blood sugar levels because it contains fructose. Fructose doesn’t enter the bloodstream directly but metabolizes in the liver instead.
How to Store Agave Syrup?
There aren’t any special requirements for keeping your agave syrup fresh. If you don’t open the bottle, the syrup inside will remain fresh for well over a year. When agave starts going bad, it will change its color and the consistency won’t be the same. To avoid this, you need to keep it well sealed and away from direct sunlight.
An opened agave bottle should be good for around a year as well. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but the same storing rules apply as with an unopened bottle.
Is agave vegetarian and can you use it as a sugar substitute in your plant-based diet? The answer is yes. Besides being vegetarian, agave is also an excellent option for vegans because it is a 100% plant-based product. This article has also given you an idea of how healthy agave is as well. Thus, if you are looking for good vegetarian sugar substitutes to try, agave syrup is a perfect one to start with.