Food Fight: Agave vs. Honey

by in Food Fight, Healthy Tips, November 1, 2012

This is going to be our toughest food fight yet! Two natural sweeteners pitted against each other – it’s a very difficult decision.

Most agave nectar is produced from the blue agave plant grown in desert regions like the hilly areas in Mexico. The syrup is extracted from the “honey water” found at core of the plant, filtered, heated and then processed to make it into thicker nectar you see at the store. This makes agave a good sweetener for vegans (who don’t eat honey).

Agave nectar has a dark amber color, but has a more neutral flavor than honey. One tablespoon of the sweetener has about 60 calories compared to about 45 and 60 in the same amount of granulated sugar and honey, respectively. It’s 1 ½ times sweeter than sugar and so you can use less of it. Agave easily dissolves in cold liquids like smoothies and iced tea and can be used to replace granulated sugar in baked products (see instructions below). Many food manufacturers also use agave nectar in products like energy drinks and bars because of its light flavor and over-hyped nutritional benefits.

To replace sugar with agave in your baked treats, do the following:

  • Replace 1 cup of sugar with 2/3 cup of agave
  • Reduce liquids in the recipe by ¼
  • Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees F to prevent excessive browning
  • Increase baking time by one minute for every 15 minutes of baking time

Depending on how it’s processed, agave contains from 55% to 90% of a sugar called fructose —which is also found in fruit. The remainder of the sugar ranging from 10% to 45% of sugar is from glucose. This is a similar to the amount of fructose in high-fructose corn syrup.

The media has hyped up agave because of its low glycemic index (GI of 17) compared with regular sugar (GI of 68) or even honey (GI between 60-74 depending on variety).  This low glycemic index has made agave a favorite among many diabetics. However, according to the American Diabetes Association agave should be treated just like any sweetener (like sugar, corn syrup or honey) and be consumed in limited amounts.

The reason for the lower glycemic index is due to the high amount of fructose. However, studies have shown that high amounts of fructose have been linked to diabetes, obesity, fatty liver and may play a role in memory loss.

Nutritionally, agave does contain provide small amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. However, the amounts aren’t major contributing factors to your overall diet.

One tablespoon of honey has about 64 calories. The flavor of honey depends on where the bee collected its nectar. The darker the color, the more robust the flavor and the more antioxidants present. You can also find a variety of minerals like iron, copper, niacin, riboflavin, potassium and zinc.

Honey is about 25-50% sweeter than sugar so you don’t need as much when using it in a recipe. When substituting for granulated sugar, use lighter-colored (and milder flavored) honey so it won’t overpower your recipe.

When baking, use the following guidelines to substitute honey for granulated sugar:

  • Use ½ cup of honey per cup of sugar
  • Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees F to prevent excessive browning
  • If using more than 1 cup of honey, decrease liquids in the recipe by ¼ and add ½ teaspoon of baking soda

Check out our other tips for baking with honey

There’s also been some belief that eating local honey can help alleviate seasonal allergies. The theory stems from the facts that bees collect local pollen spores and if we consume around a tablespoon a day, it could help build up our immunity through gradual exposure. An article published in the New York Times in 2011 discussed a recent study conducted at the University of Connecticut Health Center. The results found that local honey had no such benefits.

Babies under the age of one year shouldn’t eat honey as it contains botulism spores that their underdeveloped immune systems can’t handle.

Healthy Eats Winner: This food fight winner is honey. Agave is a bit more processed and has been over-hyped by the media and built up to be a super-sweetener—but it’s just like all the others and should be used in moderation.

TELL US: Who gets your vote: agave or honey?

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Comments (498)

  1. Linda Shepanski says:

    HONEY! I bought a jar of locust honey from a local farmers market. It has a very distinct flavor. I'll buy it again. Next, I tried poplar honey. It's OK, but I prefer the locust. I've been looking for lavender honey, (that I can afford, but no luck yet. It's very expensive on the internet

  2. Shirley says:

    I have used both..honey certainly taste better…so I am sticking to honey…

  3. Valerie says:

    What can you tell me about the benefits of "Truvia".

  4. dorifritzinger says:

    My vote is raw honey – purchase it from a local, trusted bee keeper.

  5. EKS says:

    Honey is natural, from nature. Not processed.No brainer.

  6. Bushpeddler says:

    Have used honey on my breakfast cereal for years. Warm milk and honey is a good sleeping aid.
    Tried agave. My vote goes to honey

  7. Shellie says:

    By far I stick to honey. I love avocado honey from Ventura California that is dark like molasses. I also feel that it is available anywhere as long as we protect the bees. Nature is a wonderful source of many things needed to survive.

  8. Georgeann Sprague says:

    Honey is certainly the better of these two choices. In fact a combination of honey and organic apple cider vinegar can help reduce blood pressure!! The Stevia plant is 300 times sweeter than the same amount of sugar, has zero calories, and does not affect blood sugar. It was banned in 1991 (some people think by the FDA on requests from the companies who make artificial sweeteners) but has since be deemed safe. There are other brands out there who have been around longer than Truvia, which is produced by the big manufacturers like the ones who tried to have it banned. I buy those instead of Truvia just on principle. Agave Nectar is used in raw food diets- a lot!. My own doctor (MD who believe in Integrated Medicine) told me only to us Xylitol, which is Birch Sugar. It does not affect the blood sugar level negatively and does not contain fructose. I had no problems with it but my husband had a common side effect- loose bowels.

    • Rebecca says:

      The reason it was banned was it could can cause low blood pressure and can mess with blood sugar in diabetics. In fact they tell pregnant women to be careful taking it. So contrary to your belief it can affect blood sugar. Most of my diabetic patients are told not to use it.

  9. Nancy M says:

    Definitely honey especially since I just have to get it from my brother who raises honeybees.

  10. Grace A says:

    Honey, of course, I purchase my from local bee keepers. No grocery store processed stuff. It is the best sweetner for a cup of hot tea after a walk on a cold afternoon. I buy honey in different parst of the state to get the different flavors.

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