Food Fight: Agave vs. Honey

By , Toby Amidor, Food Network
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.

Click here for more information on honey from Food Network.

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Who gets your vote: agave or honey?

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On those rare occasions when I entertain with a fruity martini, a little agave cuts the bitterness of citrus additions. Report
I don't use either since I've read "THE SUGAR FIX" by Richard Johnson MD, Professor of Medicine at the medical school in Colorado and listened to his lectures on YouTube. I have Metabolic Syndrome/Pre-diabetes and I've been educating myself on the condition. Report
Sugar is sugar; the less the better. I prefer honey, raw, to avoid processing, but mostly I try to avoid sugars (other than those that occur naturally in foods) altogether. Report
Honey definitely. I always go local if I have the opportunity, and seems as thought honey is less processed. Report
I've heard a lot of good things about agave, but I too tend to favor honey or maple syrup. I like a bit of honey in my tea or yogurt. I even like using maple syrup on my ice cream. yum. I know agave can be a little expensive as compared to honey. Not that maple syrup is cheap. the good stuff is not only worth its weight in gold, it's priced its weight in gold. Which is another reason I use it sparingly. Report
It is too bad we had to click on the link to read the rest of the article for the section on honey. Personally honey is my first choice, being Canadian I also use maple syrup. I use a lot of honey in baking. I hadn't realized that agave nectar was really about the same as using corn syrup with the high level of fructose. I do use some corn syrup, as I have recipes that call for it & it really does make a difference to the final product. As with everything moderation is they key to being healthy. Report
Tough call. I'd tend to go with raw unprocessed honey - seems to agree with my body better. Agave tasted fine but it seemed that my body reacted to agave as if I had eaten HFCS - so maybe I just can't handle as much fructose as I can glucose? And my go-to sweetener for stuff like tea, oatmeal etc. is usually Stevia... Report
Well, actually, Splenda. :-) Report
I'm not much of a sweet tooth, but I'd go for the honey as well. It's a natural product, anti fungal, antibiotic, never goes off and has been used throughout history for a variety of things.

Sometimes you just have to look further than the caloric value of a food to make comparisons. Report
Maple Syrup is local, made in the woods behind my house. Honey, I look for local unprocessed because it helps with allergies by helping your body build natural immunity to the pollen in your area. The honey should be from someplace within 10 miles of your home. Report
What about honey? This article was just about agave. I personally use maple syrup, it's a Canadian product so doesn't leave a large enviromental footprint as agave. Report
I do not think I can even buy agave where I live in Canada. What I do miss is the scarcity of BUCKWHEAT HONEY and also when I was a boy there was a company (Love's) I think they were based in Alberta that had unpasteurized honey in blue and yellow cardboard tubs. It was great. Report
What the heck is this article? Judging by the title I thought they were going to weigh the pros and cons of agave AND honey. But it all comes off sounding like a promo for agave. Way to go! Hey, don't even bother to mention that health benefits discovered from agave are only from the traditionally prepared variety, not that commercial crap in the stores. Report
I've never heard of Agave - Honey will always be my sweetner in my tea, coffee, and cornflakes...anywhere I need a little sweetening up! Report
I use both, but prefer honey in most cases. Agave has a better flavor in herbal teas however because it doesn't overwelm the herbal flavors. Report
I've never actually tried agave directly. (It's probably in some of the things I've eaten, but I didn't look.) I happen to like the taste of honey, but know it isn't the best mix with some recipes - so I may try it at some point. Report
The real culprit, if there is one, in HFCS is Fructose. HFCS has about 55% Fructose and 42 % glucose. Honey runs about 40/55. Agave, which is a highly processed sweetener and absolutely no more natural than HFCS, nor is it some ancient Native American secret, can run as high as 90% fructose. So what are your objections to HFCS? HIgh Fructose? Stay away from sugar (also highly processed) and agave. Artificially derived, highly processed? Stay away from agave and sugar. Linked to obesity? Never mind. Just limit your sugar consumption, eat more fruit, and get lots of exercise. Complaining about HFCS and loving Agave are just current food fads. Report
There is absolutely nothing 'natural' about agave nectar. The stuff is processed beyond belief. Everyone screams about high fructose corn syrup which is about 50-55% fructos. Agave is 90% highly processed fructose! And a high level of fructose intake has been associated with fatty liver issues. No agave for me. Report
I too choose honey because I buy straight from the farm raw. I like the granulated honey. Mmmmmm :) Report
I prefer a little honey but as I age I need to drastically reduce my sugar consumption. Report
Interesting. I just started using agave about a month ago. I really like it. Report
I like to spread it around....a little agave in my smoothie one day and a bit of honey in my tea the next. I am trying to give up artificial sweeteners completely and agave gives me one more tool to use. Report
Honey gets my choice because I buy it from a local farmer. I use it in my tea! Also, no information on Agave as a cough syrup for kids. Studies have been done with honey and show honey is *better* than cough syrup for kids. (Same efficacy and lower cost) They're not letting me put in the link but search "honey vs cough syrup" and you'll find the info.
I discovered Agave nectar after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I don't see the issue as Agave or Honey. I use Agave as a sugar substitute because I prefer natural over chemical sweeteners. Flavored Agave nectar is a wonderful topping for my whole grain waffles as it has less of an impact on my glucose than sugar free maple syrup. Report
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