Let’s Talk Honey

The story of honey is as old as history. Honey has been used for food, medicine and much more since the beginning of time. When it comes to honey, it is all about the bees.

Honeybees visit millions of blossoms in their lifetimes, pollinating plants and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive. Once at the hive, the nectar gets broken down into simple sugars and stored inside the honeycomb. The design of the honeycomb is fascinating. With the constant fanning of the bees’ wings, the nectar evaporates, creating the sweet liquid we know as honey. Honey provides food for the bees and provides heat in the hives. Fortunately for us humans, honeybees make more honey than the colony needs. Talented and patient beekeepers harvest the excess honey which is then bottled and sold.

Just like other products, honey labeling is under the guidance of the FDA. The honey label tells us where the product came from and who manufactured it. Honey is the only ingredient in pure, natural honey. The label may indicate information about the honey’s source, for example, clover honey.

  • Raw honey comes directly from the beehive and is not processed, heated, or pasteurized.
  • If honey is labeled ‘pasteurized’ that means the honey was filtered and processed. This process creates a clear-looking product that is easier to package and pour. Pasteurization may eliminate some of the trace minerals associated with honey’s health benefits, but sugar content remains the same.

There are more than 300 unique types of honey available in the United States alone, each originating from a different floral source. As a general rule, the flavor of light-colored honey is milder, and the flavor of darker-colored honey is stronger. A honey’s color may also vary. Honey made from wildflowers may have a dark amber color whereas orange blossom honey may appear lighter.

People often assume that honey is a better choice than sugar. Honey contains mostly sugar as well as a mix of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Although honey may provide some health benefits that sugar does not, normal serving sizes of honey may not impact nutritional status when compared to other sweeteners.
  • Honey provides 64 calories a tablespoon. A tablespoon of white sugar provides about 49 calories. However, with honey’s stronger flavor, less honey is needed to sweeten foods to the same degree.
  • In addition to its use as a natural sweetener, honey is used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial agent. People commonly use honey orally to treat coughs and topically to treat burns and promote wound healing.
  • Studies show that if local honey is ingested regularly, it can reduce pollen allergy symptoms in humans.
  • Avoid giving any honey, even a tiny taste, to babies under 1 year of age. Honey can cause a rare but serious gastrointestinal condition called infant botulism caused by exposure to Clostridium botulinum spores.
  • Of note, some people are sensitive or allergic to specific components in honey, particularly bee pollen. Although rare, bee pollen allergies can be serious.

Honey should be stored at room temperature in a dark place to help retain its flavor and consistency. With proper storage, honey does not generally go bad. Be careful not to contaminate your honey with other foods during food prep. Over time, honey may become darker, or the flavors may shift, but this is natural. Obviously, should you see mold or if it smells off, it is time to toss.

  • If your honey crystalizes, this is not a problem. This occurs when the sugar separates from the water, forming crystals. To fix this issue, simply heat the jar of honey in a water bath over low heat. Do not boil or microwave the honey as high temperatures may affect taste and quality.

Honey is a versatile sweetener and there are countless ways to use it in the kitchen. When using honey:

  • Be sure to spray your spoon or measuring cup with cooking spray to allow the honey to slide with ease.
  • Baking experts recommend using 1/2 to 3/4 cup of honey for each cup of sugar in the recipe, and reduce the liquid by 1/4 cup for each cup of sugar replaced.
  • If the recipe does not already include baking soda, add 1/4 teaspoon for each cup of sugar replaced.
  • Lower the oven temperature by 25°F and watch carefully for doneness.

Be sure to pick up the local honey available at McCaffrey’s Market. Then, try this Honey Dijon Hummus recipe to brighten up your next charcuterie board, or enjoy these Honey Glazed Veal Chops for a for a quick and tasty low-calorie dinner.

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