Sugar showdown


Blue agave plant in Jalisco State, Mexico

Agave (ah-GAH-vay) nectar is the new simple syrup at many bars in NYC.  It’s produced from the same blue agave plant used to make tequila – large, spiky and in the succulent family, like aloe vera.  Species of agave abound, but blue agave has a high carbohydrate content which turns into a high fructose content in the nectar, making it the most desirable variety.  The sap or nectar from the plant is called aguamiel or honey water in Mexico and it’s extracted from the piña or core of the 7-10 year old agave plants.  After extraction, it’s filtered and heated, breaking the carbs down into sugars. 

Light and dark varieties are made – both can be made from the same plants; the differences stem from filtering and heating temperatures.  The lighter ones are compared to honey and represent the style you’ll mostly find at the bars, while the darker ones are compared to maple syrup.  You can find it at health food stores, Whole Foods or online.

In a recent conversation with my boss, Nils about my home bar, I mentioned my bottle of agave nectar.  He asked why I bothered, citing that it’s just a more expensive version of simple syrup.  My response was that I didn’t need to use as much because it was sweeter.  He then said, well, it depends on how you make your simple syrup.  Duh. 

Historically, I’ve used a one-to-one ratio of sugar to water when making simple syrup.  Dissolve 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup water on the stovetop – pretty simple, right?  Nils advocates using 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, making the excellent point that he prefers not to dilute his cocktails. 

I was also a sucker for the packaging of the agave nectar – a clean, little squeeze bottle – as opposed to the unwieldy Tupperware I’ve used to store simple syrup in the past.  Getting the sticky liquid from the tub of plastic often yielded more syrup on the inside of the refrigerator/floor/counter than it did into the cocktail-in-the-making. 

What about the difference in taste between simple syrup and agave nectar?  Which is tastier?  In a recent hydrocolloids class, Nils and Dave did a quick experiment and got mixed results – some preferred the simple, some the agave. 

When my current bottle of agave runs out, I’m going to give Nils’ recipe a shot.  He keeps his in the fridge and says it lasts a few weeks.


Filed under Cocktails, How to

3 responses to “Sugar showdown

  1. Cara Hoffman

    I vote for agave! It’s really good in tea. And…isn’t it supposed to be better for you than sugar? There’s also a taste difference that I can’t quite figure out–but I bet you can.

  2. athirstyspirit

    Some raw food enthusiasts like it because it’s not cooked to a very high temperature. I think it has a slightly more tangy and earthy flavor than simple syrup.

  3. Pingback: The first cocktail? « A Thirsty Spirit

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