What Is Honey?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Honey dripping off a honey spoon into a glass bowl
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Honey is an organic, natural sugar alternative with no additives that is easy on the stomach, adapts to all cooking processes, and has an indefinite shelf-life. It is made by bees and stored in wax structures called honeycombs. Honey is used as a sweetening agent in a wide variety of foods including baked goods, marinades, beverages, and more.

Fast Facts

  • Honey does not go bad. It is recognized as the only food that doesn't spoil.
  • Honeybees must tap over two million flowers to make one pound of honey, flying a distance equal to more than three times around the world.
  • The average worker bee will make only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime.

What Is Honey?

Honey is a thick golden liquid. It is produced by bees and is made using the nectar of flowering plants. The bees produce the honey through a process of collecting nectar, regurgitating nectar, and evaporating water from the honey to produce the material we consume. Bees perform the vital service of pollinating fruits, legumes, vegetables, and other types of food-producing plants in the course of their business of honey production.

Honey is as old as written history, dating back to 2100 B.C. where it was mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings, the Hittite code, and the sacred writings of India and Egypt. Its name comes from the English hunig, and it was the first and most widespread sweetener used by man. Honey was valued highly and often used as a form of currency, tribute, or offering. In the 11th century A.D., German peasants paid their feudal lords in honey and beeswax. In days of old, honey was used not only in food and beverages but also to make cement, in furniture polishes and varnishes, and for medicinal purposes.

Varieties

There are many varieties of honey. The color, taste, smell, and even texture will vary greatly between varieties. The distinguishing factor is the type of flower that the bee frequents. Clover honey will be quite different from lavender honey. Some other varieties include:

  • Acacia
  • Alfafa
  • Chestnut
  • Orange Blossom
  • Sage

There are also different production processes, which result in a wide array of honey types. These include liquid in raw or pasteurized forms, whipped, and honeycomb.

Honey Uses

Honey is a sweetener. In the kitchen, it can be used with nearly any cooking method. It's tasty as is with apples, spread on top of crackers, or mixed with yogurt. Honey can be used in baking, as a sweetener to tea or beverages, or as a marinade ingredient. Honey can also be used as a natural lip balm, moisturizer, or cough remedy.

How to Cook With Honey

Use honey from the bottle or jar. If you need to measure out precise measurements, spray the measuring spoon with cooking spray before dipping it into the honey. The honey will slide right off the sprayed spoon. Honey can be used in place of sugar for most recipes, but it will affect the texture of the food, especially in baked goods which may become more moist and dense.

What Does It Taste Like?

Honey is extremely sweet. It is a sticky, viscous material. It also may taste quite floral, fruity, or woodsy. Depending on the type of honey (and type of flower), you may be able to distinguish a specific taste, such as lavender. To distinguish different honey tastes, a side by side taste comparison can be a fun exercise.

Honey Substitute

Since honey is a sweetener, it can be substituted with sugar. The flavor and texture may not be the same when you make the swap. To replace one cup of honey, use 1 1/4 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of an additional liquid such as water or a liquid that is in the recipe. Another swap is one cup of honey for 1/2 cup of sugar plus a 3/4 cup of corn syrup.

Honey Recipes

Tasty on its own, honey is included in a wide variety of recipes.

Where to Buy Honey

Honey can be found at most major grocery stores. It's often in either (or both) the produce area and the baking aisle. Local honey can also be found from beekeepers or local farmer's markets. Specialty food stores and online retailers sell a wide variety of honey.

Storage

Honey is the one food that does not spoil. Keep it in a cool location out of direct sunlight. It's original glass (or plastic) container is best. If your honey begins to crystallize, it is not bad. Simply place the jar in warm water and remix the honey.

Nutrition and Benefits

Honey has a small number of nutrients, but it's mostly sugar (in the form of fructose and glucose). Honey does have antioxidants but it depends on the bees and the plants from which the honey was produced. Per teaspoon, honey has 21 calories and 4.5 grams of carbohydrate.