Who doesn’t love honey? A classic natural sweetener, find out all about honey’s nutritional benefits, as well as how to select, store, and use it in baking.
Honey has been around since ancient times; in fact, the earliest recording of beekeeping are Spanish cave paintings that date back to 7000 BC.
In ancient Egypt, honey was thought of a gift from the gods and symbolized royalty. The ancient Greeks and Romans also saw honey as an offering for the gods, as well as valued it for its medicinal qualities.
Honey continued to be popular throughout the ancient world and into the Renaissance, when sugar slowly started creeping in as the primary sweetener.
While many of us think of those plastic bear-shaped containers of honey that all taste the same, raw, local honey is a true treat as the color and flavors vary greatly based on the nectar used to make it.
A natural sweetener, honey is made by honey bees that collect nectar and bring it back to the honeycomb where it’s broken down into simple sugars by the bees. To harvest this sweet nectar, beekeepers collect the honeycomb frames and scrape off a wax cap that seals off the honey in each cell.
From there, the frames are usually place in an extractor to get the honey out of the comb. Once the honey has been extracted, it’s then strained of any particles or remaining wax.
Generally speaking, 1 tablespoon of honey (21 grams) contains 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar. While honey does contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals, considering the portion size that we typically eat, honey doesn’t contribute significantly to our intake of these nutrients.
However, high-quality honey is high in antioxidants, including flavonoids. And by high-quality honey, we’re talking about 100% pure honey that doesn’t have any additive ingredients. There’s also a debate as to whether or not regular, pasteurized honey is lower in these plant compounds than raw honey – but we’ll get to that later on.
While honey has been shown to lower blood sugar levels less than refined sugar, it still will cause elevation in blood sugars so diabetics should remain mindful of portion sizes.
One of the more traditional uses of honey is for healing wounds and burns. Research has actually found that honey can be effective in the treatment of infected wounds and burns thanks to its antimicrobial properties; however it’s important to note that these properties will vary on the source of the honey. If you’re interested in using honey to help with an infected wound or diabetic foot ulcer, it’s worth talking to a medical provider for recommendations.
Ever use honey to help with a cough? Evidence has shown that honey is just as, if not more, effective than many mainstream medications.
The most important thing to look for when selecting honey is the ingredient list. The only ingredient listed should be honey. Avoid any with added syrups, sugars, or thickeners.
But what about raw vs. regular honey?
Raw honey is simply honey that’s been bottled immediately after straining. Regular honey, like one’s you’re likely to see in the grocery store, have gone through additional steps of pasteurization and filtration.
The main purpose for these steps is to kill off the yeast naturally found in honey so that it lasts longer and has a smoother taste. Additionally, filtration removes any impurities, resulting in a clearer looking honey.
The downside of these additional steps is that the heat involved kills off pollen found in raw honey and may reduce the levels of antioxidants. Additionally, most studies looking at the potential health benefits of honey are based on raw honey.
In general, if I’m using honey raw, such as on toast, I usually use a raw honey. But for baking or any other time the honey will be heated, I keep a less expensive jar of pure honey around as well.
It’s important to mention that raw honey may be dangerous to pregnant women and babies, so it’s recommended to avoid it in these populations.
One final note: organic honey does not mean raw. By US regulations, organic honey can be either raw or pasteurized. So, if you’re looking for organic, raw honey, make sure to closely read the label so that you know what you’re buying.
While some claim that eating local, raw honey can help prevent seasonal allergies by exposing your body to local pollen, the evidence on this is mixed and has only looked at small sample sizes.
However, if it works for you then by all means continue doing it.
The reason I like local honey is simply for environmental and communal reasons. Food transportation takes a major toll on our carbon footprint. By buying local, you can reduce the transportation involved.
Additionally, I am a big advocate for supporting local food producers, honey included. Not only is it great to support your local community for economical reasons, but I also like getting to know the people behind my food.
Honey is easy to store. Simply keep it in it’s original jar or container away from direct sunlight.
However, it is very important to avoid moisture from getting into the honey to avoid fermentation. So keep those lids on tight!
While honey technically doesn’t go bad if stored correctly, that doesn’t mean that it won’t change. Over time, honey can crystallize. If this happens, simply rest your honey jar in a bowl of warm water until the crystals dissipate.
Honey is a great way to add a little sweetness to savory dishes by adding it to marinades or sauces; it’s also delicious whisked with vinegar, oil, and mustard for a simple salad dressing.
Raw honey is best enjoyed, well, raw on toast and pancakes, mixed into yogurt or oatmeal, or added to smoothies or cocktails. And don’t forget to take advantage of the different flavors of raw honeys to add another layer of flavor in these dishes.
However, honey can also be used as a sweetener in baking. As a general rule of thumb, you can substitute ½-¾ cup of honey for each cup of sugar in a recipe.
But because honey is more liquidy, you’ll want to reduce the other liquids in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of sugar replaced. If the recipe doesn’t already include baking soda, it’s recommended to add ¼ teaspoon for each cup of sugar replaced as well so that you’ll get the proper rise.
Honey tends to make baked goods burn quicker, so you’ll also want to reduce your baking temperature by 25 degrees F.
For recipes using maple syrup, honey can be substituted 1:1, with just a noticeable change in flavor but not texture.
To get you started, here are some of my go-to recipes featuring honey:
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