Diabetes, obesity and other health risks have been associated with excessive consumption of refined white sugar. As a result, several sugar substitutes, both natural and synthetic, have been marketed as healthy alternatives. Each sugar substitute has its benefits and drawbacks, but one of the best is agave nectar, the sap of the blue agave plant. This natural raw food is 25 percent sweeter than sugar yet has a low glycemic index range of 27 to 39, whereas sugar rates about 65. Substituting agave for sugar helps reduce overall caloric content in addition to consumption of refined sugar, and slows the increase in blood sugar after a meal.
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Use 1/2 to 3/4 of the amount of sugar you normally use. Because agave is 25 percent sweeter, simple arithmetic suggests using only 4/5 of the amount of white sugar that's called for. This might not be easy to calculate or measure, however. Tastes vary, and some professional chefs prefer to use equal amounts or as little as 1/4. One suggestion is to either start with an amount of agave that is 1/2 the amount of sugar called for in a recipe and then add agave to taste if needed, or start with a ratio of 1 to 1 and make successive batches with reduced agave to find your favorite ratio.
Reduce liquid. Because the amount of solid sugar being added to the recipe is being replaced by a somewhat liquid sweetener, and usually at lower quantities, the amount of liquid being added to a recipe should also be reduced. If the recipe calls for water, milk or another liquid, reduce it by the same ratio as the measure for sugar was reduced. Do not reduce calls for oil, though.
Bake slower and lower. Agave nectar is popular among raw food enthusiasts because many brands are extracted without exposure to temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit that chemically alter many of the beneficial nutrients. If your recipe calls for baking, your agave will no longer be raw. Because, like any syrup, agave crystallizes at high temperatures, reduce the recipe's oven temperature by 25 percent and cook for longer.
Sweeten drinks. Because the blue agave is the same plant from which tequila is made, most drink recipes calling for this natural sweetener will be a variation of the margarita or some other tequila-based drink. But blue agave can also be added to tea, coffee or any beverage. Start with half the amount of sugar you would add, stir thoroughly, then add more to taste if necessary.
Use on cereal and granola. Lots of cereal is already sweetened, but if you eat the kind that isn't and like a little sugar, try substituting blue agave. It works best on oatmeal or granola, where it can be mixed in uniformly. If you make your own trail mix or energy bars, use agave like you would honey.