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Honey

Sunday, 7 December 2008 | Tags:

An alternative sweetener, honey is a mixture of natural sugar, glucose, fructose, carbohydrates and water. We dip into the honey pot to see what makes honey such a sweet treat.

The Basics

  • There are different forms of honey available:
    • Comb honey comes just as the bees produce it: in the beeswax comb.

    • Liquid honey is extracted from the comb.

    • Granulated or creamy honey is made by blending one part finely granulated honey with nine parts liquid honey and storing at 14C (57F) until firm.

    • Chunk honey is comb honey in a jar with liquid honey poured around it.

  • Honeybees gather nectar from many different types of flowers(polyfloral honeys) or from one kind of flower (monofloral honeys),which creates a wide variety of subtle flavours.

  • Different colours of honey hint at the flavour:

    • White honey is very mild and gentle.

    • Dark is more robust, with a strong aftertaste.

    • Amber tastes somewhere in between white and dark.

  • Honey is like wine: the aroma gives an indication of taste. Generally speaking, if you don’t like the smell, you’re likely not going to like the taste.

  • The lower the water content, the better the quality. Less than 14% water is considered very high quality.

  • The grade of honey refers to how clear the honey is (e.g. whether there’s any debris such as wax floating on the top). It doesn’t have anything to do with nectar source or country of origin.

  • Pasteurizing honey extends its shelf live, but has no other health benefits.

Cooking Tips

  • Mildly flavored honeys like clover or floral honeys are best used for recipes with predominantly delicate flavours. Stronger floral honeys may impart some of their flavour to the food.

  • Strongly flavored honeys are good for spreads and other recipes where a distinct honey flavor is desired.

  • Try adding a small pinch of baking soda to baked goods recipes with honey to counteract the slight acidity of the honey, and to help it rise.

  • 1 cup of honey weighs about 12 ounces.

  • Some chefs use honey to brown and glaze surfaces of baked foods.

  • Honey is a natural preservative, often used for pickles and sauces, and provides a longer shelf life.

  • Honey is often used to keep baked goods moist and fresh.

  • Honey’s emulsifying qualities make it a great choice for salad dressings.

  • Store honey should in a dry place because it absorbs moisture. Refrigeration hastens granulation, which is natural.

  • Some honeys begin to granulate within a week or two, others take several months. The honey is still good! To remove the grains, heat the jar carefully on low in a pot of water, stirring constantly.

    • Some people recommend putting honey in the microwave to de-crystalize it, but purists say this is a definite no-no since heating the honey can alter its taste. (It’s also not recommended to microwave it if the honey is in a plastic container, which can melt.)

Other Considerations

  • Honey is considered to have some health benefit and can often be found as an ingredient in natural healing and antibacterial concoctions.

  • It’s also thought that eating locally-produced honey can reduce susceptibility to hay fever.

  • Some people think honey is healthier than refined sugar. Honey is fat-free, cholesterol-free, and sodium-free. It is still primarily sugar, but it’s natural and in a form that’s easier for your body to break down.

  • Honey also contains potassium, vitamin C, amino acids, anti-oxidants, and calcium.

Be Aware

  • Honey is a well known source of bacteria that can cause botulism in babies under 12 months. Botulism affects the infant’s nervous system and can result in death. The bacteria exists regardless if the honey is pasteurized on not, so it’s very important not to introduce honey too early. Healthy people are not affected by this level of bacteria.

  • Some honeys are labelled organic, but in reality, it’s hard to control where the bees fly. Typically a honey is considered organic if the hives are 5+ kilometres away from any non-organic farming. However, there’s no way to account for any neighbouring residential pesticide use.

  • If you have your own garden, you can attract honeybees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects using a variety of flowers. Ask at your local garden centre. Similarly, if you use pesticides in your garden, be aware that you also may be affecting beneficial insects like honeybees, populations of which are in rapid decline in North America.

TEST CRITERIA

We tried a variety of honeys at a local market to compare taste and texture:

Taste Test

  • Buckwheat Honey (monofloral): thick, dark honey with a strong, poignant taste. Possibly an acquired taste.

  • Blackberry Honey (monofloral): subtle, pleasant flavour that is easy-to-enjoy. One of the more popular choices.

  • Organic Amber Honey (polyfloral): medium flavour with less sweetness.

OUR TOP PICK

It’s hard to pick just one honey to recommend since it’s really a matter of personal taste. If you’re lucky enough to have a local farmers market in your area, you can often find a honey-maker’s stand where you can taste test different varieties, which we highly recommend!

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