Honey has been used as a sweetener for millennia. In fact before the advent of cane sugar, it was the only concentrated form of sugar available to us and, because of its scarcity, an expensive luxury food only eaten on feast days and by the wealthy. Nowadays things have changed and honey is seen as a more natural, healthier alternative to white sugar. Yet it must be said, despite having many healthy properties honey is still sugar, and as with all sugars, it should be eaten sparingly.
The National Center for Biotechnology, reports that honey provides trace amounts of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. Studies also suggest that honey contains natural phytochemicals that can increase antioxidant activity in the blood. In natural medicine, honey has been claimed to have antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-allergen effects due to the fact that local honey contains pollen from local plants. While these claims remain unproven, there’s no disputing that honey’s soothing sweetness is simply the bee’s knees, in fact it’s perfect for a sore throat in a mug of steaming hot lemon with honey, or on a gray winter’s day during cancer treatment.
Honey comes in a variety of colors and flavors from robust to sweet, depending on which flowers the bees who produced it slurped up the nectar from. Something about honey just says sweet and smooth. It is used in products as diverse as pastries, soaps, and lotions. In the kitchen, it’s commonly used as a sweetener for coffee or tea, or as a spread on toast or bread, or an alternative to sugar when cooking, baking.
The taste of honey varies widely with the flowers the bees visit, from perfumed orange blossom and tupelo honey to strong and almost woodsy buckwheat. Try taste-testing different types to find your favorites. It’s best to look for USDA organic honey or, when possible, purchase honey that is locally produced. This way you can be sure your honey comes from bees that gathered flower nectar rather than being fed sugar water, as allegedly happens with some of the cheaper commercial brands. Honey doesn’t need to be refrigerated and will keep indefinitely; although the longer it’s kept, the more likely it is to thicken or crystallize. If it does, it’s still good to eat.
Although honey is available in various forms, including comb and creamed, liquid honey is generally the best for cooking. If your honey has hardened, stand it in a bowl of hot water to make it runny again. Remember that honey is much sweeter than sugar, so go easy with it. For something simple, try brushing a little warmed honey as a glaze on roast vegetables such as parsnips and carrots. Or drizzle honey over a simple dessert, as in Cook for Your Life’s Baked Apples With Rosemary & Honey, or the sweet and savory Pears With Cheese & Honey. For baking, use roughly ½ cup of honey for every cup of sugar called for in the recipe and reduce the total liquids by 3 tablespoons. Honey browns faster than sugar, so you may need to lower the cooking temperature a little, too.