One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.
– George Carlin
I’ve been a misfit baker for long enough that I tend forget, a few of the ingredients I use are still a mystery to some people. This became evident with the recent popularity of my Lemon Coconut Muffins. People who (I’m guessing) have not been exposed to alternative baking, were questioning, “What’s agave nectar?”. Not wanting people to feel intimidated or turned off of a recipe because of an unknown ingredient, I decided it was time for a new installment of Misfit Baking 101.
First of all, you may be wondering what is with the tequila reference. Tequila and agave nectar originate from the same plant (Blue Agave), they are just processed differently… My understanding is that the processing of agave nectar is similar to that of maple syrup. Sap is extracted from the plant, filtered, then heated/boiled, breaking the carbohydrates down into sugar.
Once found mostly in health food stores, agave nectar is now being stocked in supermarkets alongside granulated sugar. Some stores have a dedicated “natural/health” section and it can be found there (if in doubt, ask). When selecting agave nectar, the bottle should state if it’s light, amber, or dark (the intensity of the flavour increases with the darker colours)… There is also raw agave nectar, which is the only one I use as it’s been processed at a lower temperature and retains more of it’s nutrients.
While some people use agave nectar for the health benefits, other’s debate whether there are any benefits at all. I view it as any other sweetener, fine in moderation (sugar, in any form, is still sugar)… When I do chose to use it, I’ve done so because of it’s flavour and/or texture. It has a similar flavour and consistency to liquid honey, and can be swapped in recipes measure for measure. For this reason, vegans commonly use agave nectar in place of honey. I may also choose it as my sweetener if I’m baking for a diabetic, because of it’s low glycemic index.
Things to know…
Agave is pronounced “ah-GAH-vay”… You should have seen the confused look on the shopkeeper’s face, when I boldly asked for “ah-GAVE” nectar :-)
When modifying a recipe, it is usually possible to replace granulated sugar with a liquid sweetener (such as agave nectar). The process does, however, require the reduction of other liquids from the recipe. Therefore time and patience is needed for trial and error… Also keep in mind that results will vary.