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Stevia vs. agave syrup: two natural sweeteners & sugar substitutes compared

Choosing between stevia and agave? Widely used in the food and beverage manufacturing industry, our team of ingredients experts are exploring and explaining the differences between these two natural sweeteners.

 

Both plant-derived, vegan-friendly and touted as a healthy natural alternative sweeteners, there is plenty that stevia and agave have in common — but there are also a few important differences.

What is stevia?

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana, a herbal plant native to South America (predominantly Brazil and Paraguay). It is often used as a sugar substitute in beverages, baked goods and other foods.

Most commonly available as a powder or granulated form, stevia can also be liquid. Containing no carbohydrates or calories, its sweetness comes from its natural compounds called steviol glycosides. It is up to three hundred times sweeter than table sugar.

What is agave?

Agave is a sweetener derived naturally from the sap of the agave plant, which is native to Central America (predominantly Mexico). Also known as agave syrup, agave nectar and maguey syrup, its history of use in beverages — including tequila — spans thousands of years, but it is also used as a sugar substitute and vegan-friendly alternative to honey in baked goods and other foods.

Agave is commonly available in the form of syrup and nectar. As a liquid, it has a thinner consistency than honey. It is around 1.3-1.4 times sweeter than table sugar.

Stevia vs. agave: taste, flavour profile & sweetness

Stevia is incredibly sweet, often with a bitter, metallic aftertaste. Some say it also has a slight liquorice taste. Agave has a far milder, more subtle, fruity sweetness which is often compared to that of honey, with some saying it resembles caramel or vanilla.

The active compounds behind stevia’s perceived bitterness are called steviol glycosides. They can trigger the receptors on our tongues that identify both sweet and bitter tastes. This is why it is often mixed with other sweeteners when used in beverages, such as aspartame and sugar.

Stevia’s bitterness could soon be a thing of the past, however. The plant has only been bred since around the 1970s; through selective breeding, many producers of stevia are now trying to cultivate plants that provide greater amounts of those more palatable sweeter compounds — great for food and drink producers!

The flavour of the agave can depend on the plant it derives from and the manufacturing method. The agave syrup we offer — made from 100% blue weber agave — is a lighter variety, offering a more neutral profile that is suitable for foods and beverages with a delicate taste.

Stevia: key uses & conversion with sugar

Stevia is most often applied as a sugar substitute in the production of a wide range of products. It is also used to sweeten some health foods and supplements, including mouthwashes and toothpastes.

  • Baked goods: Cookies and cakes
  • Confectionery: Sweets and chocolate
  • Dairy: Ice cream and yoghurts
  • Beverages: Sports and isotonic drinks, diet soft drinks, syrups, juices, RTD tea and coffees, instant drinks, flavoured waters

Stevia is far sweeter than sugar, which means less is required to achieve the same level of sweetness. Its aftertaste means it is often paired with other sweeteners, like aspartame. This ingredient is valued for its stability under wide-ranging pH and heat conditions.

Agave syrup: key uses & conversion with sugar and honey

Agave syrup is commonly used to sweeten a range of foods. It is a particularly popular vegan-friendly alternative to honey, where it can be substituted on a 1:1 basis.

  • Breaking cereals & bars: It is often used as a binding agent in breakfast cereals, granola bars and energy bars.
  • Sauces and dressings: By helping to balance out tangy flavours, it is also used as a sweetener for sauces, marinades and dressings, particularly barbecue sauces and ketchups.
  • Beverages: It is commonly applied as a sweetener for cold beverages, such as iced tea. Historically and in the present day, agave syrup is also used in the production of traditional alcoholic beverages like tequila and mezcal.

Sugar substitutes may need some refinement depending on your recipe, and will likely require a slight reduction in liquids elsewhere in the formulation.

Stevia vs. agave: nutrition, blood sugar impact & glycemic index for diabetics

People with diabetes may be interested to learn that stevia has a glycemic index of zero — it is a non-nutritive sweetener that does not affect blood sugar levels whatsoever.

One teaspoon of stevia contains:

  • Calories: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Sodium: 0g
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 0g
  • Fibre: 0g

One teaspoon of agave syrup contains:

  • Calories: 21
  • Carbohydrates: 5g
  • Sugars: 4.7g
  • Sodium: 0.3g
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 0g
  • Fibre: 0g

Compare this to one teaspoon of regular sugar, which contains:

  • Calories: 20
  • Carbohydrates: 4.2g
  • Sugars: 4.2g
  • Sodium: 0g
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 0g
  • Fibre: 0g

So, whilst agave does actually have more calories than sugar, it is sweeter and therefore a smaller quantity is usually required. This can make it a healthier natural alternative to sugar. Since stevia is completely calorie-free, it can be an excellent sugar substitute for those looking to manage their weight or avoid blood sugar spikes.

Stevia vs. agave: processing & manufacturing

Both stevia and agave are derived from natural sources. Stevia is created as its plant leaves are dried and then steeped in water. The liquid that results is then purified and concentrated, creating an off-white powder or liquid sweetener.

To manufacture agave, sap is extracted from the pressed core of the agave plant (the ‘piña’) and filtered, before being heated. This breaks down the carbohydrates into simple sugars. Depending on the production method, agave can be light, medium or dark (the type we supply is light in colour).

However, manufacturers often add fillers or additives; some types of stevia and agave can be heavily processed. Be sure to check with your ingredients supplier.

Stevia vs. agave: costs

Stevia typically costs more than agave syrup, with both being dearer than sugar. However, because both are sweeter, smaller quantities are usually required when formulating to achieve the same level of sweetness.

Summing up: stevia and agave syrup compared

Those seeking a calorie-free formulation should opt for stevia, but should be minded about its aftertaste; you may want to team it with other sweeteners. Agave syrup is sweeter than normal sugar, which can make it an excellent substitute or vegan-friendly honey alternative with its fruity, subtle flavouring (but added calories).

At Airedale Group, our Food & Beverage division has decades of experience supplying agave, stevia and a range of other quality sweeteners in bulk sizes to meet any requirement. Our light agave syrup is made from 100% blue weber agave.

If you’ve got a few more unanswered questions about stevia and agave — or you’d like some advice or assistance on which sweetener’s right for you — our team of ingredients experts are only a quick message away

Get in touch

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