Veganism became very popular again in the last 20 years. With the rise of the World Wide Web, Facebook and Instagram, veganism became cooler and cooler. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until 10 years ago that I didn’t know honey wasn’t vegan. How silly of me. Honey is a byproduct of bees and bees are insects. Can I get a facepalm emoji, please? I always thought that vegan = healthy = organic = whole foods. Honey could be organic, healthy and is a whole food.
The great reveal of honey not being vegan to me got me thinking about what sweetener can vegans eat that is not table sugar? And there it was, Agave. The millennial in me knows agave because of tequila. Yes, you may laugh even more now. Agave is the plant in which tequila is made from. To make tequila, you must cut the plant and extract the sugary sap. The sugary sap is then fermented to make tequila. The sugary sap is where we find Agave nectar.
Agave nectar is so popular among vegans and health buffs because of the number of nutrients it has. Take note though that pure agave nectar is the only form of Agave nectar that is nutrient-dense. There have been numerous studies on Agave syrup being even less healthy than table sugar. Although agave’s glycemic index is lower than that of table sugar, it still contains higher amounts of calories. If you’re using agave instead of sugar, it is important to use less agave than the actual amount of sugar in the recipe. Use 75% agave compared to the 100% sugar amount in the recipe.
Let’s admit that it’s difficult to let go of added sugar. There are so many ways to utilize sugar in a good way and we’re not limited to 1 or 2. Here’s a list of 13 great substitutes for agave syrup that you could use in many different ways!
1. Maple Syrup
Some say that maple syrup and agave syrup are neck in neck in the run for alternative sweeteners. That, we would agree. Maple syrup is vegan and so is agave. Vegans, although they don’t make up the entire population, are a big market to cater to.
Maple syrup comes from the maple tree and tastes similar to caramel and wood. These two flavor notes combined make a popularly delicious sweetener. Maple syrup is known mostly for its relationship with pancakes and waffles.
Agave however has a more neutral flavor which is great for pairing with more things rather than maple syrup. Can you use maple syrup instead of agave? Certainly! Use maple syrup to spice up your drink or dessert. You will surely taste the woody, vanilla and caramel flavors!
Honey – everybody loves honey. Honey differs from beehive to beehive. It’s a special byproduct of these hardworking creatures that are responsible for flora procreation aka pollination. Without bees, there wouldn’t be a world to live in and that’s a fact.
Honey can taste fruity, spicy, floral, woody, nutty or earthy, depending on where it is from. Honey is used in baking, drinks, savory food and for medicinal purposes. It has fewer calories than agave and is nutrient-dense. It contains plenty of minerals, making it a top choice for an agave substitute.
Use honey as a substitute for agave syrup in salads, drinks and glazed food.
Erythritol is a special kind of sweetener because it contains zero-calories. That’s right, you read that. ZERO-CALORIE SWEETENER. Who knew that existed? This gem of a sweetener is a sugar alcohol present in natural food like watermelon, grapes, peaches and watermelon. Erythritol also occur in food and beverages like beer, cheese, soy sauce, and wine. It is 60-80% less sweet than sugar and 50-60% less sweet than agave syrup.
Erythritol can be used as a sweetener for baked goods, drinks and even savory food. Try using erythritol in your crepe or pancake batter. Crepes and pancakes aren’t meant to be super sweet in their original form but sugar is still part of the recipe. Use erythritol as an alternative sweetener and your crepe/pancake will still taste the same or even better.
4. Golden Syrup
Golden syrup is made from sugar canes or sugar beet juice. The taste is fairly neutral because it’s very close to the ”usual sugar taste”. Golden syrup is similar to the color of honey and can be used for baking. It is a great substitute for agave because these are vegan friendly.
Golden syrup is great for baking cupcakes and muffins. It’s hard to make bad muffins and cupcakes so if your portions are off, they’ll still be good. Remember though that in working with liquid sweeteners, you have to lessen the amount because of the added moisture into the recipe. You can read more about How to make Golden Syrup here
5. Corn Syrup
Corn syrup is a sugar extracted from corn. Corn syrup available in grocery stores are often mixed with glucose or also known as the runnier form of glucose. Corn syrup isn’t the favorite substitute for sweeteners like Agave because of its bad publicity but it has many benefits in cooking.
Corn syrup is used to smoothen food like ice cream and popsicles to prevent unpleasant crystalized sugar in your mouth when eating. It is also commonly used for making confectionery sauces like caramel and chocolate sauce.
Like Agave, corn syrup is vegan so it’s a great alternative for our plant-based friends.
Table sugar is the most popular form of sugar because it is standard. Table sugar is made from sugarcane. It is highly processed making it an addictive and delicious ingredient. Sugar is used in most cuisines not just as a sweetener but to balance flavors.
If you run out of your organic sweetener, you can always use sugar to replace it. Sugar isn’t as bad as it is said to be most especially if you take it in moderation.
7. Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is basically equal parts of sugar and water, simmered down to a syrup. Sugar syrup is usually used as a sweetener for drinks.
Earlier I mentioned that tequila is made from agave. One of the most popularly known tequila-based cocktail is the margarita. The margarita is made with a lot of ice, lime juice and sweetener. The sweetener often used is agave syrup. Agave syrup goes perfectly well in the drink because it is liquid and it belongs!
A good substitute for agave syrup in a margarita is simple syrup because of its neutral taste and liquid form.
8. Brown Sugar
Brown sugar is the healthier version of white sugar because it is not as processed. It’s a rule of thumb that the more processed a certain food or beverage is, the less healthy it gets. This goes for rice, flour, sugar and so on.
Brown sugar still contains molasses which contain plenty of minerals. Brown sugar has a flavor that’s deeper and more robust compared to white sugar. It is more moist and well, the items to pair it with are more limited compared to the neutral flavors of agave and white sugar. Brown sugar is a good sweetener for baked goods most especially if you want a specific kind of consistency for the food.
Stevia is a plant-based sweetener. It is popular for adding to coffee and it doesn’t alter the flavor of the drink too much, just like white sugar and agave. This sweetener is considered a healthier sweetener because it doesn’t come with the negative health effects associated with sugar.
Stevia is a great substitute for agave in smoothies because of its subtle sweetness and neutral flavor. It is widely available in grocery stores and comes in powder form.
10. Rice Malt Syrup
Rice malt syrup is the trending sweetener alternative now. It is made from rice, obviously, and it commonly used now to make vegan food like raw desserts. It is a healthier alternative to agave because of the zero presence of fructose which has a high glycemic index.
The consistency is similar to honey but the flavor is quite flat. It is just sweet and the sweetness doesn’t last long in your mouth. If you’re into not feeling guilty about the sweet things you eat, this is the perfect alternative to agave syrup.
Ah, yes. My favorite. Molasses is like the dark horse of sweeteners. It’s dark and gooey and not very pleasant to work with. Molasses has a robust flavor and thick consistency. It is used to color baked goods and jams. If you’re feeling daring, you can also use molasses in stews in small portions. Molasses is one of the better forms of sugar before it becomes completely unhealthy. It is nutrient-dense and contains plenty of minerals.
If you want the burnt caramel flavor to your drinks, baked goods and savory food, add molasses. I love adding molasses to my bacon jam because it adds beautiful color and it complements the saltiness of the bacon.
12. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar just like Agave has been at the top of the list for alternative sweeteners. Coconut Sugar is known to be processed less which allows for the product to retain its minerals and fatty acids. Coconut sugar is literally the dehydrated sap of the coconut palm tree. It is more powdery in texture compared to white sugar and a little deeper than brown sugar.
The closest we could compare coconut sugar to is brown sugar. The colors are slightly the same and both are more moist than the usual table sugar. However, coconut sugar does have a drying characteristic if you use it in baked goods. Your baked goods will have the tendency to be a tad bit drier than your desired product. It’s not a life-altering decision to use coconut sugar in baked goods. It’s rare that your baked goods will be a disaster. It’s just a very small thing to take note of.
Coconut sugar tastes a little bit nuttier and burnt compared to brown sugar so if you want a special taste in your baked goods, use this as an alternative to Agave or other sweeteners.
13. Yacon Syrup
Yacon Syrup is derived from the roots of the Yacon plant. The Yacon plant is not only enjoyed as food but also for its medicinal purposes in the Andes. It is known that the plant is good for improvements in diabetes and digestive disorders.
It is interesting to note that Yacon helps with digestive disorders. The yacon syrup is said to be “one of the best dietary sources of soluble dietary fiber called fructans”. While table sugar is known to be bad for us, it’s apparent that this sweetener alternative, it will even help us lose weight! Don’t be fooled though. Only 50% of the syrup is indigestible so you still have the extra 50% to digest which will add to your caloric intake.
Yacon Syrup tastes similar to molasses and caramel. It is best drizzled over your breakfast muesli, oatmeal, smoothies and drinks!