Indulge your sweet tooth with the 13 best healthy vegan agave nectar substitutes for added nutrition, satisfaction, and the sweetest results.
💭 Why Substitute Agave
If you've looked for vegan sweeteners, you likely encountered agave nectar (agave syrup). Although its origins are plants, by the time you get commercial agave in liquid form, it has been highly processed (ultra-processed, if you will). Agave processing strips the bulk of its nutrients and health benefits. And although agave scores lower on the Glycemic Index than regular sugar (about half), it is high in fructose which puts the liver into overdrive whenever you eat it.
Fortunately, there is good news. There are many plant-based choices regarding a healthy, natural sweetener. You can lower your sugar intake and still satisfy your sweet tooth. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it intends to give you a few ideas for liquid and granulated options to replace agave.
⭐ A Healthy Vegan List
If you think a healthier substitute for a cup of agave nectar is a cup of honey, it might be (on another list). Honey, including raw honey, is not vegan. Simply put – bees make honey. That's why it's not on the list. Believe it or not, a cup of sugar also doesn't make a list. We won't detail the specifics of table sugar as an unhealthy sweetener, but sugar may or may not be vegan. The same goes for that cup of brown sugar which is nothing more than refined white sugar with added molasses.
🥣 Liquid Sweeteners
Date Paste – When it comes to healthy sweeteners, date paste rules. It's an excellent substitute for agave and tops our list of alternative sweeteners. It is the ultimate natural sweetener because you simply blend dates with water. For this reason, you get the nutrient benefits of whole dates and fiber, which help regulate blood sugar levels. Date paste has a thicker consistency than other liquid sweeteners. Although if you make your own, you can control even that. Make homemade date paste - it's super easy!
Brown Rice Syrup (brown malt syrup). Brown rice is fermented with cultured enzymes that break down carbohydrates. The liquid is then boiled, leaving a sticky syrup that is less sweet than agave. Although brown rice is very healthy, the easily digestible brown rice syrup that results from processing contains few nutrients. On the flip side, it has no fructose. The level of processing is brand-specific, so do your research.
Date syrup – Date syrup is slightly more processed than date paste. Still, if you choose wisely, it makes a convenient sugar substitute. Like date paste, it's made from dates and water. Rather than whipping it up in your blender, like date paste, date syrup is produced by cooking, and then the mixture is pressed to extract the juice. The result is concentrated syrup. It's a bit high in fructose (not in the same category as high-fructose corn syrup). Date syrup provides enough fiber, so the sugar is more slowly released into your system. Date syrup is dark brown, so it is not the coppery color of agave nectar. Still, it is a good substitute for a liquid sweetener.
Fruit syrup and paste - Other fruit syrups and pastes are similar to those made with dates. Fruit pastes, made by blending dried fruit and water, are a good option when you want to flavor dishes like mango curry. Check that your healthier alternative starts with dried fruit that doesn't contain additives. If they are sweetened, they should be with fruit juice, not sugar.
Pure Maple Syrup – Maple syrup is a popular sweetener in vegan cooking and baking. Most of us know it comes from the sap of maple trees; however, not all maple syrup is the same. There are different grades and colors, ranging from golden syrup to dark. Read the labels and be prepared to pay extra for real maple syrup. Maple syrup is often used as a replacement for agave syrup because it is less processed, lower in fructose, and contains antioxidants and other nutrients. It defeats the purpose of having a cheap syrup with artificial sweeteners.
Blackstrap Molasses – Don't let the fact that it's a byproduct of cane sugar production fool you. Blackstrap molasses is loaded with iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and B6. Unlike refined sugar, it is an excellent source of iron (better than eggs). Blackstrap is slightly bitter and very thick, so it might not be one of the best substitutes for hot beverages. Consider adding it to baked goods, sauces, and dressings.
Yacon syrup – Extracted from the yacon plant of South America, yacon syrup has a molasses flavor. If you try this, use it sparingly, as it has been known to cause cramps and bloating for some folks. It's probably not the first choice as a simple syrup shot for your morning coffee, and more suitable for those baked beans you've been yearning for.
Balsamic vinegar – If you want to add a touch of sweetness to your favorite sauces and salad dressings, balsamic vinegar might just be the lift you’re looking for. This dash of sweetness comes in various grades, so read your labels. And check out white balsamic -great for creamy dressings and even sweeter than the red variety. Try it in spaghetti arrabbiata - delishious!
🥥 Granulated Sweeteners
Coconut Sugar – A natural sugar made from coconut palm sap, coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar, is brown, granulated sugar. Coconut sugar contains minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, and other valuable nutrients. It has a lower glycemic index than table sugar because it contains fiber. The sugar content of coconut sugar is high, so don't use it in abundance and claim health benefits later.
Date Sugar – It might be called palm sugar, but date sugar is not the same as coconut sugar. As the name implies, date sugar comes from ground-up, dried dates. Date sugar has one-third fewer calories than regular sugar. Like all things date-related, it has fiber and nutrients. It might be more difficult to find in the grocery store, but well worth the search.
Palmyra Jaggery – Relatively new on the market, Palmyra Jaggery, also known as Suga Vida, is a plant-based sugar alternative low in the glycemic index and a good source of B12 and other essential minerals, including iron, potassium, and magnesium. It comes from the sap of the Palmyra palm tree grown in Sri Lanka and India. Warning – it's very sweet so use it sparingly.
Coconut Blossom Nectar – Like maple syrup, you can get coconut blossom (coconut nectar) as a liquid or in crystalized form like sugar. It has a low GI and is high in fiber. Beware, it's high in fructose and expensive. There are better options on this list.
Monk Fruit Extract – This is another natural sweetener now becoming widely available. You will probably find it under the name Lo Han Go. It comes from the Buddha fruit, a small round fruit from Southeast Asia. The sweetness, a whopping 100-250 times that of sugar, comes from the antioxidants mogrosides rather than fructose or glucose. It was approved in 2010 by the FDA and contains a few ready-made products so that you won't find it in sugar-free soda, but it can be purchased in a crystallized form.
🧾 How to Contribute to this List
Do you know of a healthy vegan sweetener that deserves mention? Do you have a burning question about sweetening a recipe? Contact Denise using the contact form on the search bar. Thanks!