Dana and I took a trip to New York City’s Union Square Farmers’ market last year and stopped at the honey booth to watch the bees climb all over each other. After inquiring with local beekeepers, we realized there is more to this sweet natural treat than bees.
A tablespoon of honey has 64 calories, and all of those calories are from simple sugar. But there’s plenty that separates honey from a plain table sugar. Honey contains small amounts of numerous vitamins and minerals, including iron, copper, niacin, riboflavin, potassium and zinc, as well as flavonoids and phenolic acids, which act as antioxidants. The darker the honey, the more antioxidants present. Kosher and organic honey are also available. If you have young children, beware: babies 12 months and under shouldn’t consume honey; it contains small amounts of botulism spores that are deadly to an immature immune system.
Not just for internal nourishment, honey has a reputation for healing the outside as well — some use it topically to help treat wounds.
The Sweet Taste of Honey
Color says a lot about honey. Deeper-colored varieties usually have more robust flavors, while lighter-colored honey is more mild. The flavor and color also depends on what kinds of blossoms visited the honey bees visited. Today, there are more than 300 unique types of honey available in the U.S., including clover, eucalyptus, orange blossom and sage.
Forms of Honey
Most honey sold in the U.S. is liquid, which has been extracted from the comb and pasteurized. This is especially convenient for cooking and baking. Comb honey comes with the liquid still in the chewy comb, and the whole thing is edible. Cut comb or chunk-style honey is liquid honey with chunks of the comb added to the jar. Whipped honey is processed to control crystallization. You can use it to replace butter in sauces or drizzle it on veggies or into tea or coffee. Whipped honey also tastes great on waffles, pancakes and toast.
Keep your honey at room temperature and it will last about two years. Refrigerating honey causes it to quickly crystallize and turn solid. If your honey crystallizes, place in microwave or cook over a low flame. Stir frequently until the crystals dissolve; be careful not to scorch or boil (few things smell worse than burnt honey).
Cooking with Honey
Use honey in sauces, salad dressings and marinades. Honey is much sweeter than sugar so use less when cooking, baking or adding to tea. When substituting honey for granulated sugar in a recipe, start by using half the suggested sugar. You can always add a little more if needed. Stick to the lighter, mild honeys so they don’t overpower your recipe.
When baking, you may want to reduce the oven temperature by 25°F to prevent over-browning. If using more than 1 cup of honey, reduce the liquids in the recipe by a forth and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. My favorite trick is to coat a measuring cup with non-stick cooking spray so your honey slides right out. Better yet, try out one of these adjustable measuring cups made for sticky ingredients.