Is agave vegan? How it is made and how it compares to other sweeteners
Because some types of sugar and honey are off-limits to most vegans, it can be difficult to find an animal-free sweetener to swap out in recipes and add to drinks. Enter: agave. This herbal sweetener is completely vegan as it is extracted from the agave plant and does not use any animal components in its production.
Agave has a very distinct taste that’s closer to light honey or corn syrup than sugar (in fact, it’s actually sweeter than table sugar) and comes in light and dark varieties.
Tree climbing tip
Clear agave is filtered more and processed with less heat, giving it a smoother, more neutral flavor that is best suited for lighter desserts, baking, and adding to drinks.
Black agave (also known as amber agave) has a stronger, richer flavor and can sometimes be slightly thicker, making it taste more like brown sugar, caramel, or molasses.
Why agave is generally vegan
Agave is made from agave plants, which accumulate non-structural carbohydrates in the sap of its stems and core which are extracted to create the sweet syrup.
There are three different processes used to make agave syrup. The traditional method involves heating the sap in pots which are placed directly over a heat source and held there until the water evaporates, forming a thick syrup with concentrated sugars.
The second method is a semi-industrial process that uses high pressure heat while controlling certain variables like pH and temperature. The third process is highly industrial, using whole agave pine and more sophisticated mechanical technology to extract carbohydrates and hydrolysis using enzymes or acid instead of heat.
Because the ingredients are completely plant-based and no animals are involved in its production, agave is considered vegan.
Agave syrup should always contain 100% pure agave and never contain additives or other sources of sugar.
Did you know?
Agave syrup is derived from the same type of plants as tequila. The leaves of agave plants, considered a byproduct of tequila production, are rich in bioactive compounds that contain antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Agave plants themselves have also been shown to respond favorably to climate change and have developed traits that allow them to survive extreme heat and drought. They also control soil erosion and are a food source for many different pollinators. As a result, researchers are exploring agave plants as a potential alternative source of food and bioenergy.
The long-nosed bat controversy
The Mexican long-nosed bat, listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the states of Texas and New Mexico, and the Mexican Endangered Species Act, are important pollinators that depend on agave flowers as a source of nectar.
Some activists have called the large-scale agave harvest a contributing factor to the bat decline, although many conservationists maintain that the exact reasons for these declines are not fully understood. Recovery efforts across the species’ range are underway, with over 50,000 agaves already planted in the bat habitats of northern Mexico alone.
Products containing agave
Agave syrup can be used in all applications requiring the use of added sugar, including beverages and baked goods. Since agave in its pure form is vegan, those on a vegan diet only need to look at the other ingredients in the products to determine whether or not they are suitable for their diet.
Agave is regularly used as a sugar substitute in marshmallows, candies, chewing gum, and chocolate, as well as in baked desserts like cookies, cakes, and sweet breads. It’s also common to see agave added to granolas, cereals, snack bars, energy bars, and jams.
While many people opt for agave in their morning cup of coffee instead of sugar or honey, commercial brands also use it in varieties of juices, sodas, and energy drinks.
Agave is a popular sweetener to add to smoothies and fresh juices, but it has also gained traction in craft cocktails because it traditionally pairs well with tequila.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is raw agave vegan?
Most agaves undergo heating during the production process. There are, however, varieties of agave syrup that go through a raw production process without high heat and are labeled as such. Raw agave is also vegan.
Can we replace agave with honey?
Agave and honey have such a similar taste and texture that they can generally be used interchangeably in most recipes.
How to store agave syrup
Agave does not need to be refrigerated, but it should be stored out of direct sunlight to retain its freshness.