Raw agave syrup is sweet, easily dissolved and is available in many varieties. What is raw agave syrup, though, and how exactly does it differ from regular agave syrup?
Defining the Term "Raw"
The main difference between raw agave nectar and regular agave is based on the definition of the term "raw." To raw food enthusiasts, the words means that the food item has not been processed above a certain temperature, usually about 115 or 120 degrees. By this definition, very few agave syrup manufacturers make raw agave.
Generally, agave syrup is manufactured by reducing the nectar from the agave plant, which is a type of cactus, to a concentrated syrup. As with the processing of any other kind of syrup, including natural syrups like pure maple syrup, this kind of processing requires higher temperatures than raw food specialists consider appropriate. Some companies, though, use special processing with temperatures of 120 degrees or less to produce a high-quality syrup that could be considered raw.
Regardless of the type of processing, the nectar gathered from the agave plant becomes more concentrated as water is evaporated off and the nectar's naturally occurring carbohydrates are transformed into fructose by enzymes within the nectar. The actions of these enzymes are also considered by raw food enthusiasts to be a change from the original food, making raw agave syrup not quite "raw" regardless of the temperatures used.
In other cases, a company will label agave syrup as "raw," meaning that it has been less refined, less filtered or processed a shorter amount of time than other varieties of syrup they offer. In these cases, the agave syrup would not be considered raw in the context of a raw foods diet, but could be considered raw as far as the overall amount of refining and processing it has undergone.
Differences Between Raw and Regular Agave Syrup
The major differences between raw and regular agave syrup lie in the color and the taste. Agave syrup labeled as raw is typically a darker color than regular syrup. The taste is also stronger, more reminiscent of molasses or a dark honey than the more refined, clearer types of agave syrup. The lighter the color of the syrup, the more it has been refined and filtered. Also, the lighter the color the milder the flavor.
Using different types of agave syrup in beverages and foods will have different effects on the taste of those foods. For beverages, such as tea and coffee, a lighter syrup is better because it will add only sweetness to the drink without altering the flavor. In cereals, such as oatmeal, a stronger flavor might be preferred.
Any type of agave syrup can be used in cooking, again taking into consideration the stronger flavor of a darker syrup. Agave syrup is generally about 1 1/2 times sweeter than sugar, so care must be taken when making substitutions. For those new to agave syrup, some experimentation and a specialized cookbook should make the experience much more pleasurable.