I love that it's less messy to cook with than honey yet tastes similar to sugar. But FitSugar cautions me from going too crazy, as the jury's still out on the sweetener. She says it's pretty processed and full of fructose sugar and recommends honey or maple as more natural alternatives. Do you buy it?
In the last couple of years, agave nectar has sprung virtually out of nowhere to appear in natural sodas, liqueurs, baked goods, and cocktails. So what's all the fuss about? Agave nectar (or agave syrup) is a liquid sweetener made from juice extracted out of the core of the agave plant.
This sugar alternative, which is roughly 25 percent water, dissolves easily in cold liquids, and is sweeter than white sugar, yet less processed than refined sugar, and has a healthier glycemic index. It comes in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties.
Light nectar has a delicate, almost neutral taste; amber possesses a caramel color and medium flavor; dark has stronger notes of caramel. Raw nectar is produced at temperatures below 118ºF and contains natural enzymes and a mild taste.
Agave syrup can also be employed to substitute equal parts honey. Unlike honey, agave nectar is vegan, and does not crystallize when stored. When cooking with it, keep in mind that 3/4 cup agave syrup has the sweetening power of 1 cup of cane sugar, and when baking reduce the temperature by 25ºF. Have you been using agave nectar in place of sugar? What's your favorite use for it?
Mezcal or Mescal
A Mexican distilled spirit that's made from the fermented juice of the agave plant's core. The core is roasted underground over pits of hot rocks. This technique gives mezcal a characteristic smokiness. The difference between mezcal and tequila is the plant (tequila is made from the blue agave only) and the roasting method (for tequila, the agave core is cooked in an oven). Although it's produced throughout Mexico, the Oaxacan region is best known for its production and consumption of the potent liquid.