Agave nectar is a sweetener that comes from the desert-growing agave plant. It’s mostly made up of fructose, and though its original use was as a byproduct of tequila manufacturing, it’s become popular as a replacement for cane sugar.
It’s a controversial sweetener, though, because while it is naturally-sourced, its content of fructose is higher than that of regular sugar, leading to some people to compare it to high-fructose corn syrup.
While it’s definitely not something you want to overuse, it’s still useful to sweeten coffee and tea with a naturally sourced sweetener.
Here are the ten best agave nectars on the market, plus the details on the science behind agave nectar.
1. Kirkland Signature Organic Blue Agave
Kirkland Signature Organic Blue Agave is a very solid source of agave nectar thanks to its smooth and golden taste and its organic certification.
The 36 ounce bottles are great for occasional or regular use, and the flip-top cap makes dispensing either a small or large amount of agave nectar easy. Due to all these advantages, it’s our number one pick.
2. Bluava 100% Pure Blue Agave
Bluava 100% Pure Blue Agave is an excellent choice if you are looking for a small batch artisanal agave nectar. This agave nectar is both organically grown and sustainably sourced, so it’s a great eco-conscious choice.
Users love its smooth taste, and the smaller bottle size is great for the occasional user who doesn’t need a giant bottle sitting on the shelf.
3. Madhava Organic Agave Five
For those who are worried about the high sugar content of regular agave, Madhava Organic Agave Five offers an innovative solution.
It uses natural organic blue agave, combined with stevia and water to create a sweetener that has the flavor profile of agave but only five calories per serving. It’s an excellent option to get the unique flavor profile of agave without all of the calories.
4. Tres Agaves Agave Nectar
Tres Agaves Agave Nectar is an agave nectar made specifically for use in cocktails. It’s diluted slightly with water, so it’s easier to mix into cold alcoholic drinks, and it includes citric acid to make sure the nectar is shelf-stable.
The rich, complex flavor of this agave nectar mixes up very well with tequila and mezcal. You could even try it in spiced hot chocolate or hot apple cider.
5. Madhava Organic Amber Raw Blue Agave
Madhava Organic Amber Raw Blue Agave comes in a large 46 ounce bottle that’s well-suited for regular users of agave or for people who entertain a lot of guests.
The deep red color indicates its rich flavor, which sets it apart from lighter and sweeter-tasting agave nectars.
The occasional user might want to opt for a smaller container, but because of its organic certification, it’s hard to find any flaws with this agave nectar.
6. Nectave Premium Organic Agave Nectar
Nectave Premium Organic Agave Nectar is designed for blending specialty tea, coffee, and alcoholic drinks. Its bottle comes equipped with an easy to use pump top that makes dispensing exact serving sizes a breeze.
The rich, deep red agave nectar has a strong flavor profile with no aftertaste, so it blends in very well with top-shelf tea, coffee, or spirits.
7. Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave
Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave is a light, sweet, and smooth agave nectar that comes in a fairly large 44 ounce bottle, so it’s well-suited for large groups.
The organic certification is nice to see, and the light color and smooth flavor will make it an easy transition from people who are used to the sweet but bland flavor profile of table sugar
8. Valor Organic Light Agave Nectar
Valor Organic Light Agave Nectar is organically certified and comes from a veteran-owned company in Texas.
The light and sweet nectar comes in a very reasonably-sized 24 ounce bottle, so it’s a great choice for occasional users who don’t need huge containers of agave nectar on the shelf.
9. Honey Tree Organic Blue Agave
Honey Tree Organic Blue Agave is a pretty straightforward and simple agave nectar.
Its light flavor profile is not likely to be off-putting to anyone, and the 44 ounce bottle is versatile enough for a variety of users.
Beyond that, there aren’t too many particular features about this agave nectar that set it apart from the crowd.
10. Blue Green Organics Blue Agave
Blue Green Organics Blue Agave comes in a giant five kilogram jug. It’s organically certified, which is great, though for most people, the sheer volume of agave is going to be too much to use in any reasonable amount of time.
Agave nectar benefits and side effects
Agave nectar is a sweetener marketed as a healthy alternative to white sugar, but the high fructose content of this syrup might be bad news for your metabolism.
Finding a consensus among nutritional experts about what’s good for us and what’s not can be challenging, but everyone agrees it’s smart to avoid sugar.
The negative impact of including lots of added sugar in the diet is becoming more widely accepted as the number of people struggling with obesity continues to grow.
The demand for alternative sweeteners has swelled as health-conscious people search for healthier ways to enjoy sweets. Food companies have flooded the market with artificial and natural sweeteners to replace white sugar.
Agave nectar was traditionally used for medicinal and culinary purposes. Native to Mexico and the American southwest, raw agave nectar taken straight from the thick, succulent leaves has been used for hundreds of years by Mexicans as a flavoring for food and drinks; the basis for most modern syrups is the blue agave plant. (1)
By far the most common use of agave nectar is for making tequila; Mexico exported more than 300 million liters of tequila in 2008. (2) The nectar is boiled down and then fermented into an alcoholic drink popular around the world.
Unfortunately, commercial processing used to convert the natural, raw nectar circulating inside firm, plump agave leaves basically strips the substance of most or all of the goodies contained in the original liquid.
Plant leaves are harvested when agave has grown for about 8 to 10 years. These are brought to a processing facility where they are chopped and then pressed to extract the sweet fluid. The liquid is boiled down, filtered and bottled.
While the fructans present in raw agave nectar have been shown to exert positive effects on insulin response and metabolism (3), these are converted into fructose when exposed to heat and enzymes. (4, 5) This is essentially the same formula used for manufacturing high fructose corn syrup.
Some agave nectar products are labeled as “raw,” which means the heat used for processing has been kept below 118 degrees in order to preserve naturally occurring enzymes. This may be a healthier version of agave nectar, but most commercially available nectars would be more appropriately called a syrup.
Agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than sugar. Agave nectar has a lower glycemic index (GI) rating than sugar; GI ratings are based on how much sugar a food releases into the blood. While agave nectar clocks in at 13 (6), sucrose (table sugar) hits the scale at 68. (7)
This lower rating explains why agave nectar is marketed as friendly for diabetics and others with concerns about spiking blood sugar levels. Foods with high GI ratings have been shown to negatively impact health on many levels, including a strong association with obesity. (8, 9, 10)
In animal studies, the metabolic effects of agave nectar compared favorably with the effects of sugar: over a month’s time, mice eating sugar gained more weight and showed higher insulin and blood sugar levels than mice eating agave nectar. (11)
Weight gain is associated with elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, so this isn’t a surprising result for a short-term study.
But it’s important to understand that fructose such as that found in agave nectar affects the body differently than the sucrose and glucose found in table sugar.
Glucose fuels all living cells; healthy foods like potatoes and carrots contain glucose, and this molecule can be metabolized by every cell in our bodies. However, the liver is the only organ with the capacity to metabolize significant amounts of fructose. (12)
Because fructose does not get used by most of the cells in the body, the liver is forced to process it. This can lead to some negative metabolic consequences, and the high fructose content of agave has been compared to high fructose corn syrup.
Since most of the fructose you take in must be processed through the liver, it’s vital to know what happens next: the liver converts fructose into fat and ships it out in the form of very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), raising blood triglycerides. VLDL is a subtype of “bad” cholesterol, and VLDL is particularly damaging to cardiovascular health.
VLDL is associated with the formation of plaque that can be deposited on artery walls, which can cause blockage over time. (13) Fructose can also increase low density lipoprotein (LDL) particles, the “bad” cholesterol, and increase accumulation of fat in the abdominal area. (14)
This is bad news for heart health.
Researchers have also found indications that high levels of fructose in the diet may lead to fatty deposits in the liver, which can result in fatty liver disease. (15, 16, 17) Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease often goes undetected until it has progressed to the point where it seriously impacts liver function. (18)
The fructose content of agave nectar runs at about 85%. Subjects who consumed generous amounts of fructose over the long term experienced higher blood sugar and insulin levels (19, 20, 21), which translates to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Don’t confuse the small amounts of fructose found in fruits and other whole foods with the concentrated fructose in products like agave nectar.
When you eat apple or another whole fruit, it’s loaded with fiber, which slows down the assimilation of fructose.
Fiber also makes you feel full; you’d have a tough time consuming enough fruit-sourced fructose to impact blood sugar levels the way a fructose-heavy sweetener like agave nectar would.
We all know sugar is bad for us, and cutting back or eliminating sugar is a wise move. Staying away from artificial sweeteners might also be smart, since some act as neurotoxins and can compromise health in new and interesting ways.
Approaching alternative sweeteners with caution is also a good idea, since much of what’s available today is no better than sugar, and some are worse, including agave nectar.
If you have a stubborn sweet tooth that can’t be tamed, consider checking out xylitol, erythritol or stevia. Because agave nectar derives its sweet flavor primarily from fructose, consuming it regularly in generous amounts is likely to undermine your health, but that does not mean it can’t be used as a natural sweetener in small amounts. You just need to be mindful of the amount of agave nectar you are consuming, and how often you are consuming it.