Honey Primer + 5 Honey Ideas
Its healthful benefits, from allergy aid to antioxidant superhero (plus recipes).
Ah, honey! This natural sweetener without an expiration date has been prized for thousands of years. It’s mentioned in holy books to signify abundance—Israel was referred to as the land flowing with milk and honey; it’s glorified for its healing properties; and if all that weren’t enough, it’s also used to make mead—honey wine! Yet most of us think it is merely a good sweetener for tea.
Just like wine, honey actually has varietals; each comes from one specific flower. It can also come from multiple flowers and then, of course, some manufacturers even blend their honey to taste. According to the National Honey Board: “The color, flavor, and even aroma of a particular variety of honey may differ depending on the nectar source of flowers visited by the honey bee. The colors may range from nearly colorless to dark brown, the flavor may vary from delectably mild to distinctively bold, and even the odor of the honey may be mildly reminiscent of the flower.”
While most supermarket honeys are blends, there are single varietal honeys available from companies such as Bee Raw, with their flower sources making them distinctive.
When choosing a honey, think color and clarity. The color can vary from transparent to deep amber—a darker honey is rich in iron. Also, the murkier the better, since this means it contains pollen, which intensifies the flavor. “The type of flower nectar that the bees feed on impacts the flavor, texture, and color of the honey. Clover makes for a very light colored honey, while cranberry can make for a darker color,” says Alison Russo, a certified nutritional consultant and the blogger behind HealthNutNation.com.
You can host a honey tasting as you would a wine tasting. With honey, you could do it in the order of escalating malt: a low-malt variety from the star thistle flower has more texture and subtle spice notes; eucalyptus is strong but finishes cleaner, with no aftertaste; a high-malt buckwheat is extremely sweet.
We talked to food writers, nutritionists, and bloggers around North America to get their take on what else to do with honey.
1. “The reason to use honey is that it’s a wonderful concentrated flavor, so you usually use less as compared to sugar in recipes and in tabletop use, saving calories and carbohydrates. Remember, though, it is still a carbohydrate and should be used wisely,” says Robyn Webb, MS, a nutritionist and cookbook author focusing on diabetes.
2. Janet Podleski, registered holistic nutritionist and coauthor of The Looneyspoons Collection, says she and her sister practically grew up on honey since their father was a beekeeper and they had 14 hives in their backyard! Her advice is that when it comes to honey, think raw! “Honey straight from the hive—raw, organic, unpasteurized—is the kind of honey that’s loaded with health-promoting compounds. Unfortunately, most commercial honey on grocery store shelves has been refined, processed, and pasteurized, stripping the honey of almost all things good. With the raw kind, you’ll get enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, plus lots of natural antioxidants that fight those pesky free radicals that can cause ‘youth decay.’ In fact, raw organic unpasteurized honey contains many antioxidants found in green leafy vegetables like spinach!”
3. Nutrition consultant Alison Russo says that honey is a terrific aid for allergy sufferers. “You may experience relief from seasonal allergies when consuming honey that was ‘made’ within 25 to 50 miles of your home. This is because small amounts of pollen [in the honey] act as inoculants against large amounts in the air.”
4. Clori Rose-Geiger, co-owner of Mia’s Pizza and Eats in Cummings, Georgia, prepares a vinaigrette that includes Tabasco sauce, honey, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. “I use it on a pasta salad I make with penne, shredded chicken breast, slivers of red peppers, and finely minced red onion. I store it in the refrigerator for up to a week.”
5. Amie Valpone is a health and food coach certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and the editor-in-chief of TheHealthyApple.com. She shared this unusual, high-antioxidant marinade that uses honey: 2 teaspoons honey, 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, 1 teaspoon fresh orange juice, 1/4 cup brewed green tea and freshly ground pepper to taste. It’s amazingly easy and great with salads and as a marinade.