Of course we’re all very familiar with honey. It has been around for 150 million years, so we should be. But how much do we really know about it?
Firstly, I would like you to appreciate what I had to go through to write this. I have a bit of a phobia about clusters of holes (I wrote about it a while ago on my other blog if you’re interested – http://vanessa-chapman.com/2011/11/06/get-them-holes-away-from-me/), and I can’t tell you the amount of times I was confronted with images of honeycomb whilst researching this honey article, but I braved it through to bring you the scoop…
How pure and natural is honey?
The honey that we buy from supermarket shelves has not been poured straight out of the hives and into jars. It has generally been processed by being heated to a high temperature and pressure filtered, and is often a blend of several varieties of honey. All of this gives it a uniform look and taste and unfortunately causes the honey to lose a lot of its nutritional value. However, it is still a more nutritious choice than regular sugar which is even more heavily processed. Raw/unpasteurised honey is available from other sources and many claim it is far superior in taste and quality; it can look a bit cloudy and, like wine, will vary in taste and appearance from year to year, and region to region.
How long does honey keep?
Reputedly, it will keep forever if stored in an airtight container. Bacteria cannot grow on it, so it will not go off, however if it is left uncovered, it could potentially ferment. The crystallisation which sometimes occurs in honey is harmless.
Does honey have medicinal properties?
Honey has been used medicinally for a very long time. Some of its reputed benefits are proven, some are not (as always, please don’t take anything I am saying here as being an alternative to proper medical advice) -
- Honey has natural antibiotic/antiseptic properties. If you apply it topically to a wound, the body fluids dilute the honey, and hydrogen peroxide is slowly released, which treats the wound. I believe this has been proven. It will also apparently help small burns to heal quicker.
- Many people believe that taking a spoonful a day of local raw honey helps build immunity to pollen allergies/hay fever. This is less proven, but there are many who swear that it cured them of their allergies.
- There are suggestions that a spoonful a day can help prevent colds and flu, and even cure them. I don’t believe that this is proven, but it is proven to help soothe a sore throat, so the traditional honey and lemon drink for colds and sore throats seems like a good idea.
There are many more medicinal/health claims about honey, but I shall leave it at that.
Is honey a good choice for baking with?
Honey helps to keep baked goods moister for longer, and should also add to their shelf life because of its anti-bacterial qualities. If you want to substitute honey for the sugar in a recipe, there is a lot of conflicting information, but an approximate guideline is to use three-quarters of a cup of honey to replace every cup of sugar, and reduce other liquids by half. The oven temperature should be reduced by 25 degrees F. Of course all this will vary from recipe to recipe, so it may require some experimentation. But there are plenty of recipes out there with honey already, so it’s easier to follow one of those!
Are there any cautions?
- General advice is to not give honey to infants under a year old due to the slight risk of botulism spores in the honey. Apparently this is not a problem for those over one year. Some say that the risk of botulism is only really in the raw/unpasteurised honey, however, medical advice is to avoid all honey for those under a year old.
- Whilst honey does contain vitamins and minerals, and has other nutritious properties, it is still basically a sugar, so should be eaten in moderation. It scores lower on the Glycemic Index than regular sugar, but can still cause spikes in blood sugar, and should be treated with the same caution as regular sugar by diabetics.
- Honey that has been made from rhododendrons, and a few other plants, can be toxic. Beekeepers are aware of this, and do what they can to avoid it, but sometimes it slips through. If you want to read more, here is what the FDA say
I’d be interested to hear if you use honey regularly, and if so where and how? Also whether you buy standard supermarket honey or prefer to buy local raw/unpasteurised honey?
This post is part of a series of posts on alternatives to sugar. Other parts are available here – http://sugarness.com/category/sugar-alternatives/
Bee photo credit: Krzysztof Isbrandt, sourced from:http://www.sxc.hu/