Honey – that sweet, sticky foodstuff that people either love or hate – is really a miracle food; one of nature’s wonders. Most of us know that bees have “something to do” with making honey but – really – it is a remarkable story that results in the sweet, amber-colored substance that is both delicious and healthy.
Busy Bees Create Honey for You
It takes about 60,000 bees, collectively traveling up to 55,000 miles and visiting more than 2 million flowers, to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey. Yes, tens of thousands of bees for 16 ounces of honey! Once the nectar is gathered, the bee stores it in its extra stomach where it mixes with enzymes, and then passes it to another bee’s mouth. This process is repeated until the nectar becomes partially digested and is then deposited into a honeycomb. The design of the honeycomb, along with the constant fanning of the bees’ wings, causes evaporation, creating the substance you know as “honey.” This honeycomb is then sealed with a liquid secretion from the bee’s abdomen, which hardens into beeswax.
On average, one beehive will produce about 65 pounds of honey each year. Beekeepers harvest the honey by collecting the honeycomb frames and scraping off the wax “cap” that the bees had created to seal off the honey in each cell. Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in a centrifuge that extracts the honey from the comb, after which it is strained to remove any remaining wax and other particles. The honey is then bottled and labeled and distributed to stores throughout the country.
Honey vs. Raw Honey
If the ingredient label says, “pure honey,” nothing was added from bee to hive to bottle; however, that doesn’t mean nothing was removed. Not all honey is created equal, and many people consider the honey that most of us buy from our grocery stores to be “fake.” Fake because it lacks bee pollen. Bee pollen is considered one of nature’s best and most nourishing foods. In Chinese medicine, for instance, bee pollen is used to improve unbalanced nutrition, vitality, longevity, energy, and more. Bee pollen is also used for weight control, beauty, allergies, anti-aging and more. These qualities are lost with the removal of bee pollen.
Regular honey – the kind you buy in the supermarket – does not contain bee pollen. It is removed from honey by a process called ultra-filtration, which leaves honey virtually nutrition-less; the same process that gives it an extremely long shelf life. Today, three out of four bottles of honey are considered by many to be phony; in other words, 75% of all honey in our stores is pollen-free.
Look for Raw and Organic Honey
To avoid less-beneficial, pollen-free honey, find honey that is raw and organic. The main difference between regular and raw honey – aside from the pollen content – is that regular honey is pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process whereby honey is heated at high temperatures to kill any yeast that may be present in order to prevent fermentation. It also keeps the honey from becoming granulated, making it look better to consumers. Commercial honey is smooth and uniform in color; whereas raw honey is milky in color and may have granules that can be melted in warm water. It can be assumed that any honey not labeled unpasteurized has gone through the pasteurization process.
There are more than 300 kinds of honey in the United States, each with a unique color and flavor, dependent on the source of the nectar. Lighter colored honeys, such as those made from orange blossoms, tend to be milder in flavor, while darker-colored honeys, like those made from wildflowers, tend to have a more robust flavor.
Most people love honey for its tasty goodness. According to the National Honey Board, the natural sweetener helps balance flavors, thicken sauces, and add moisture to your dishes. Although it is a versatile cooking ingredient, honey also offers some health benefits.
Raw honey out-shines regular honey in terms of the nutrients necessary for good health: vitamins A, C, D, E and high concentrations of the B-complex vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid. The high heat involved in the pasteurization process kills most of the enzymes and some vitamins, so pasteurized honey doesn’t have nearly as many health benefits as raw honey.
Honey also contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. Honey is also antibacterial, because the bees add a healing enzyme (which also contributes to the incredibly long shelf-life of honey). When used to help in skin-injury repair, honey can help maintain a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity helps to provide a protective barrier to prevent infection.
We also know that honey helps with coughs, particularly buckwheat honey. In a study of 110 children, a single dose of buckwheat honey appeared to be as effective as a common cough suppressant ingredient, dextromethorphan, in typical over-the-counter doses.
Honey Should Be Consumed in Moderation
Honey has many healthy attributes, but it is also high in fructose. Each teaspoon of honey has almost 4 grams of fructose, which means it can aggravate pre-existing insulin resistance and cause problems if consumed in excess. If you are insulin resistant – if you are taking drugs for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, or if you’re overweight – it’s probably a good idea to go easy on all sweeteners, including honey; however, if you’re healthy, eating raw honey in moderation could provide many of the benefits that honey is known for.
Cooking with Honey
Even people who don’t like their honey “straight,” may like it as part of a dish, where the overly sweet taste is tempered by other ingredients, adding just the right amount of flavor.
Honey Citrus Glazed Carrots
- 1 Tablespoon butter or margarine
- 4 cups sliced carrots
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon minced orange zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the margarine.
- Add carrots and sauté for several minutes.
- Add honey, broth, orange juice and orange zest.
- Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are cooked and liquid is thick. Season with salt and pepper.
These sticky honey-glazed chicken parts are delicious. The honey-soy glaze makes the chicken completely irresistible.
- 5 pounds chicken drumsticks, or other parts
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 Tablespoons prepared mustard
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely grated
- Sesame seeds and chives for garnish, optional
- For the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, soy sauce, orange juice, mustard, cloves, and ginger. Reserve 2/3 cup of marinade and refrigerate.
- Place chicken in a large Ziploc bag, pour remaining marinade over chicken, and seal. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight, turning the bag a few times.
- Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line a baking sheet or large roasting pan with parchment paper.
- Arrange chicken skin-side up, so chicken pieces are not touching. Add enough of the marinade to just coat the bottom of the baking pan and discard anything left in the bag. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn chicken over skin-side down and bake additional 30 minutes. If you want your chicken skin caramelized at the end, turn them over again (skin-side-up), and broil on high for 3-4 minutes or until skin is browned.
- While chicken is baking, pour reserved 2/3 cup marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 7 minutes or until thickened and syrupy. Remove from heat and brush over baked chicken pieces. Garnish with sesame seeds and chopped chives if desired.
Honey: For a Touch of Sweetness
Honey in general, and raw honey in particular, has benefits beyond what most people are aware of. Honey may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but all will agree that the effort that goes into making honey – on the part of zillions of bees – is amazing: nature at its best. Enjoy honey in a multitude of dishes and make your life naturally sweeter and more delicious.