Is Agave Vegan? How It's Made and How It Compares to Other Sweeteners

Raw Organic Sweet Light Agave Syrup
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With certain types of sugar and honey being off-limits to most vegans, it can be difficult to find an animal-free sweetener to swap in recipes and add to beverages. Enter: agave. This plant-based sweetener is completely vegan because it's extracted from the agave plant and uses no animal components in its production.

Agave has a very distinct taste that is closer to thin honey or corn syrup rather than sugar (in fact, it is actually sweeter than table sugar) and comes in both light and dark varieties.

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Light agave is filtered more and processed with less heat, giving it a milder, more neutral flavor that’s better for lighter desserts, baking, and adding to beverages.

Dark agave (also known as amber agave) has a stronger, richer flavor and can sometimes be slightly thicker, giving it a taste closer to brown sugar, caramel, or molasses.

Why Agave Is Usually Vegan

A field of Agave tequilana, commonly called blue agave
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Agave is made from agave plants, which accumulate nonstructural carbohydrates in the sap of its stems and core that are extracted to create the sweet syrup.

There are three different processes used to make agave syrup. The traditional method consists of heating the sap in pots that are placed directly on a heat source and kept there until the water evaporates, making 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 the whole agave pine and more sophisticated mechanical technology for extracting the 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 any additives or other sugar sources.

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 have been shown to contain antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Agave plants themselves have also been shown to respond favorably to climate change and have evolved traits that allow them to survive extreme heat and drought. They also control soil erosion and act as a food source for many different pollinators. As a result, researchers are exploring agave plants as a potential alternative source for food and bioenergy.

The Long-Nosed Bat Controversy

The Mexican long-nosed bat, listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the states of Texas and New Mexico, and the Mexican Endangered Species Act, are important pollinators that rely on flowers of agave plants as a source of nectar.

Some activists have called out large-scale agave harvesting as a contributing factor to the decline of the bats, though many conservationists maintain that the exact reasons for these declines are not entirely understood. Recovery efforts throughout the species’ range are underway, with already more than 50,000 agaves planted in Northern Mexico bat habitats alone. 

Products That Include Agave

A row of cocktails made with agave syrup
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Agave syrup can be used in any applications that require the use of added sugar, including beverages and baked goods. Since agave in its pure form is vegan, those who follow a vegan diet need only to look at other ingredients in the products to determine whether or not they are suitable for their diet.

Sweets

Agave is regularly used as a sugar substitute in marshmallows, candy, chewing gum, and chocolate, as well as baked desserts like cookies, cakes, and sweet breads. It is also common to see agave added to granolas, cereals, snack bars, energy bars, and jams.

Beverages

While plenty of 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 as well, but has also gained traction in craft cocktails since it traditionally pairs well with tequila.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is raw agave vegan?

    Most agave goes through 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 you substitute agave for honey?

    Agave and honey are so similar in taste and texture that they can typically be used interchangeably in most recipes.

  • How to store agave syrup

    Agave doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but it should be stored away from direct sunlight to maintain freshness.