The Glorious Magic of Raw Honey

Honey with its honeycomb

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Open the corner cupboard in my kitchen, and you'll find a lovely vision: at any given time there are three to six jars of honey. Blackberry blossom honey, macadamia nut honey, less specific wildflower honey and more may be found in there, hiding in the dark waiting for me to spread them on toast.

They come from farmers markets or friends, but they share one thing: they are raw. Unlike large-scale commercial honey which is pasteurized (i.e., heated) to kill bacteria and extend its shelf-life, raw honey contains all of its natural enzymes and flavors.

Why Buy Raw Honey

Some people see great import in the health benefits of raw honey, claiming it tames or even cures allergies. For my money, though, it's all about flavor, and raw honey tastes more, well, like honey than do pasteurized versions.

Add to that that by seeking out raw honey produced in small batches instead of large-scale production honey, you're helping honeybees by creating a market for people who keep them and collect their honey, which is cool.

How to Use Raw Honey

Raw honey tends to have a more complex flavor profile than pasteurized honey, so take advantage of it by serving it simply. Sure you can stir it into tea or use it to sweeten salad dressings, but try raw honey drizzled over plain yogurt or spread on whole grain toast to appreciate its full flavor. Or try one of these Simple Honey Recipes, like Homemade Granola or Honey-Fried Figs.

Where to Buy Raw Honey

When you buy local honey from small beekeepers, you're almost always buying "raw honey." If you're lucky enough to have a honey producer at your farmers market, that's a great source (some farmers keep hives and sell the honey alongside their other goods).

Specialty stores, health food stores, co-ops, and other smaller food stores usually carry raw honey, too. Depending on where you live, larger markets and grocery stores may sell raw honey: simply read labels carefully and make sure it says either "raw" or "unpasteurized." In short, any place featuring locally sourced foods is likely to have some raw honey for sale.

How to Store Raw Honey

Since raw honey is neither pasteurized nor filtered, it can get hard and grainy if exposed to moisture. It needs to be kept well sealed in a cool, dark cupboard if at all possible. While it may look gorgeous to leave jars of raw honey on a window sill to sit in the sun, doing so will cause the honey to crystallize before its time.

If your raw honey does get grainy, you can "liquify" it again by simply letting the jar sit in a bowl of warm water until it all "melts" (the sugar crystals are dissolving). Note that this is but a temporary solution; the honey will turn grainy again when it cools back down. Once crystallized, honey will continue to go back to that state quite quickly. And, sadly, more and more of it will crystallize along with it until you have a jar full of a rock-like substance. We consider it all the more reason to use that honey up and move on to the next flavor.