Honey is a silky sweet liquid produced by honeybees from flower nectar. It has the same sweetness as granulated sugar, but is a more natural product with health benefits. It comes in a variety of colors including white, amber, red, brown and black. The flavor depends on the nectar source and varies from mildly sweet and fruity to strong and herbal. The darker its color means more intense flavor. Honey is available year-round, but has the best taste and texture just after it’s harvested in summer or fall.
Honey can be collected from one specific flower nectar, several different flower nectars, or blended after collection. Most beekeepers keep bees in wooden hives with detachable framed combs. To harvest honey, the frames are placed in an honey extractor that spins to remove it from the comb. After it is extracted, it is ready for consumption. However, most honey goes through an additional heating and straining process to remove pieces of wax and other particles.
Honey is a healthy alternative to sugar for adding sweetness to dishes. It is high in carbohydrates that the body uses to convert into energy. It has trace amounts of manganese and iron, which are minerals that aid in energy production. Processing honey often removes many of the nutrients found in raw product, which contains a small amount of particles with antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties to keep the body healthy.
Healthy Ingredient Contribution
Values from NutritionData.com and based on 1 cup
Carbohydrates: Honey offers 93 percent of the daily recommended value of carbohydrates, which comes in two main forms: sugars and starches. The body converts carbohydrates into glucose and uses some for quick energy. The rest is stored in the liver and muscles as energy reserves called glycogen. Once the body has enough glycogen, the rest turns to body fat.
Manganese: One serving of honey contains 14 percent of the daily recommended value of manganese. This macromineral plays an important role in bone development and in converting proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food into energy.
Iron: Honey provides 8 percent of the daily recommended value of iron, an essential mineral that aids in energy production and helps keep blood strong and healthy.
Riboflavin: One serving of honey offers 8 percent of the daily recommended value of riboflavin, an essential vitamin that aids in transforming proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food into energy. It helps protect the body from free radicals.
Types and Varieties
There are over 300 unique types of honey available in the United States. Below are some of the most common types.
- Acacia honey is pale amber and has a mild, floral flavor. It mixes well with liquids.
- Avocado honey is dark amber and has a rich, buttery taste.
- Blueberry honey is light amber to amber and has a fruity flavor.
- Buckwheat honey is dark black and has a strong flavor. It is higher in iron.
- Clover honey is white to light amber and has a mild, delicate flavor. It is the most common type.
- Orange blossom honey is white to light amber with a fruity flavor and citrus aroma.
- Sage honey is white and has a faint herbal flavor. It is thick and sticky.
- Wild flower honey comes from the nectar of many different natural-grown flowers and varies in color and taste.
Selecting and Storing
- Fresh honey should be a uniform liquid and should not set in layers.
- Honey can be stored almost indefinitely in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Storing honey in the refrigerator increases crystallization.
- If honey crystallizes, place the container in hot water for about 15 minutes to return the honey to a smooth liquid.
Honey is available by processing method:
- Raw or unfiltered honey may contain some pollen and small particles of wax. It has a stronger flavor and contains more nutrients than filtered or pasteurized honey.
- Filtered honey has been strained to remove particles. Most honey sold in supermarkets has been ultrafiltered by heating and filtering to remove fine particles and pollen. Honey loses nutrients and flavor in this process.
- Pasteurized honey has been heated to destroy yeast cells. This process also destroys many nutrients. It does not solidify, granulate or become cloudy.
Whipped, or creamed, honey, is processed to control crystallization. It has a smooth, spreadable consistency.
- Honey is a good sugar replacement. It is sweeter than granulated sugar, so less should be used.
- Use honey instead of sugar in baked goods and candies, as well as in smoothies, teas and other sweetened beverages.
- Mix honey with yogurt and cinnamon for a delicious fruit dip, or drizzle honey on a peanut butter and banana sandwich.
- Make a honey-based glaze for holiday roasts or hams, and add honey to salad dressings for a hint of sweetness.
- Apiculture is the practice of beekeeping by humans and dates back to at least 700 B.C.
- Bees collect flower nectar in the mouth, where it mixes with enzymes in saliva to produce honey. The honey is then stored in honeycomb cells where the fluttering of wings reduces moisture content and turns honey into thick, sweet liquid.
- Bees make honey as food reserves for the hive during winter months.
- Bees would have to travel the equivalent of three times around the world to produce 500 grams of honey.
- Honey should never be given to children under 12 months old. It sometimes contains dormant bacteria spores that can be dangerous to infants.
Ingredient of the Month is produced by ACF’s Education Department every month as a tool to help chefs educate children and families on healthy eating and nutrition through the Chef and Child Foundation. Tools for additional classroom education are available for download for free from the ACF website at www.acfchefs.org/CCF.