How Long Does Agave Nectar Last? Can it go Bad?
Maybe you bought agave nectar for some specific recipe ages ago, or because a vegan friend was coming over and you needed a sweetener to offer them. Or perhaps you use agave all the time and simply bought way too much when it was on offer. Either way, you might well be looking at a bottle sat on your kitchen shelf thinking, ‘How long does agave nectar last?’ or even, ‘Has my agave nectar gone bad?’
I’ll answer both questions in this article, as well as digging into how best to store agave nectar at home and whether you can freeze the sweetener.
First, though, what is agave nectar and why has it seemingly become so popular in the last few years?
Agave is a succulent that’s native to Mexico and parts of Central America. You might know it as the mother of tequila and mezcal. It’s farmed to make both spirits, but a second type of agave plant also produces agave nectar.
Agave Azul, or blue agave, makes the best Aguamiel (that’s the Mexican-Spanish name for agave nectar). The nectar from the agave plant is heated through purification, at which point it becomes either light agave nectar or amber/dark agave nectar, which is heated for longer. The light nectar has a simple sweet flavor, while the dark or amber is deeper and more akin to caramel or honey.
The nectar’s popularity has grown in recent years because of its low glycemic index. That means it doesn’t cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop like most sweeteners to. Additionally, it’s totally vegan and gluten free. The light nectar can be used like sugar syrup, including in cocktails, while the darker is perfect for use where caramel, syrup or honey would normally be employed, for example on breakfast foods.
Does Agave Nectar go Bad?
The answer to this question is complicated. Of course, everything, or at least every food stuff, eventually dips in quality. But very high-sugar products tend to be pretty shelf-stable. So what’s the deal with agave specifically?
If your bottle of agave nectar isn’t opened, then it’s almost certainly safe to consume. Agave nectar doesn’t crystalize like honey sometimes can, so that isn’t a worry. Eventually, you might have issues with the quality of your agave nectar simply through plastic packaging leaking into it or a broken seal. If the bottle is several years old, then obviously exercise caution. Otherwise, if the nectar looks and tastes fine… well… it probably is.
The main issue to look out for with agave nectar once it has been opened is contamination. This could happen simply through the container being left open, or through the lid being gummed up with syrup. You could also introduce contaminants when using your agave nectar. As I say all the time — make sure to use clean, dry cutlery every time you’re getting a condiment or ingredient out of its package, especially if you want the rest of the ingredient or condiment to last.
If your agave is contaminated it could begin to grow mold. Otherwise, that’s almost impossible.
Obviously, the best way to ensure that your agave lasts as long as possible is to store it as well as you possibly can.
How to Store Agave Nectar
Agave is used as a substitute for sugar, honey and syrup. As it’s similar in makeup and texture to the latter two, you store it just like you would honey or corn syrup. Good news, right? Didn’t they find still-edible honey in an Egyptian tomb? It must be pretty easy to store then! Though I wouldn’t want to be the archaeology inturn who had to check the ‘edible’ claim.
What I’m saying is you’ll want to store your agave nectar somewhere tomb-like. That’s right, agave is another lover of a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and intense changes in temperature. The pantry or cellar are best, but a kitchen cabinet will do.
Always keep your jar or bottle of agave nectar sealed once it has been used. This will help prevent contamination. To make sure the lid is always airtight, wipe down the mouth of the container and the inside of its lid after every time you use your nectar. Because it’s such a sticky substance, agave nectar can quickly build up around the mouth of its container and dry there, ruining the lid’s seal.
You don’t need to keep agave nectar refrigerated for shelf-life reasons, but as long as it’s properly sealed refrigeration shouldn’t hurt your nectar.
Can You Freeze Agave Nectar?
You absolutely can freeze agave nectar but the question is, why would you want to? It lasts years on the shelf, and freezing could have a negative impact on its texture once it’s defrosted.
Considering that you’re unlikely to use more than a little agave nectar at a time it seems unlikely you would want to freeze the whole package of nectar. If you decide to freeze your agave nectar, whether because you have more freezer space than cabinet space or because you really don’t think you’ll get through the nectar you have in your kitchen within the next few years, then why not put it in ice cube trays to freeze individual portions?
If your ice cube trays don’t have lids then wrap them or put them in freezer bags to avoid your agave nectar getting freezer burn.
How Long Does Agave Nectar Last?
Your agave nectar is likely to have a best-by date. This isn’t the last date the nectar will be safe to eat, rather it’s just an estimate of how long your sweetener will be as good as it was the day it was made and packaged. These best-by dates are always pretty conservative, whether to get you buying fresh products more often or to make absolutely sure the companies making them won’t get in trouble if anything goes bad early. With agave nectar, though, the existence of a best-by date at all is conservative!
Unopened, a package of agave nectar will be good indefinitely. The same is true for an opened package, but opening and using your sweetener introduces the variable of potential contamination from other food products, dust, etc.
Agave nectar will lose some quality after a few years, so taste test really old sweetener before using.
How to Tell if Agave Nectar is Bad
As I just laid out, agave nectar rarely goes bad. It may lose some of its flavor over a long period (several years), resulting in less sweetness or less depth with a dark agave. It could also thicken up a little, which depending on what you’re using it for might cause problems. Give older agave a sniff test, and if that seems fine a little taste test, before you use it.
Before you use your agave, no matter its age, check for signs of mold or discoloration. This is unlikely unless something has gotten into the packaging, but that could happen in all sorts of ways so it’s best to be safe. If there’s any mold in your sweetener, chuck the whole thing out. Agave is extremely unlikely to make you sick, no matter its age, unless something else has got in there and begun to rot. Trust your instincts, humans are pretty good at telling what’s okay and what isn’t. Your ancestors must have been anyway, or you wouldn’t be here!
What to do With Agave Nectar
You can use light agave nectar in place of white sugar or sugar syrup. Simply replace one cup of granulated sugar with 2/3rds a cup of agave nectar. For brown sugar, honey or syrup use dark agave.
Dark agave also works great on breakfast foods — pour it over pancakes or waffles just like you would syrup or maple syrup.
Finally, you can use white agave in drinks, from ice tea to cocktails. Be careful when working out how much you need though, agave is somewhat sweeter than sugar or sugar syrup.