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Foods

Honey
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Our fascination with honey goes back to antiquity and references to honey can be traced back to 9,000 years ago in the form of cave paintings. So prized was honey that the ancient Romans used honey instead of gold to pay their taxes.

And we still love honey. Not only does honey add flavor to numerous foods but it is a sweetener that is relatively good for you. The only natural sweetener that requires no additional refining or processing to be utilized, honey is composed of 38% fructose, 31% glucose, 1% sucrose, and 9% other sugars, along with water and small amounts of vitamins, minerals and acids. Honey also contains small amounts of amino acids as well as vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and trace amounts of essential minerals, such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. Even though these substances appear in trace amounts, they do nonetheless contribute to overall nutrition intake.

There is one important caveat, however, regarding honey: Honey should never be fed to infants under the age of 12 months. Because their digestive systems are immature, babies less than one year of age are susceptible to infant botulism, an illness that can originate from spores (microorganisms) in honey that have no effect on adults (older children and adults have sufficient amount of stomach acids to kill the bacterium quickly).

Currently under review for antioxidant potential, honey contains several compounds that function as antioxidants, one of which is unique to honey, called pinocembrin. Pinocembrin is also being studied for potential antibacterial properties. Honey contains specific enzymes as well as other compounds such as terseness that may be responsible for honey's ability to exert antimicrobial effects against such organisms as Staphylococcus auras, Escherichia coil and Candida albicans. Honey has also been used topically as an antiseptic therapeutic agent for the treatment of ulcers, burns and wounds. However, heat and light destroy the bioactive agents in honey, so if you choose to regard honey as an antimicrobial agent, be sure to store it at low temperature and away from light.

Although honey contains low to moderate amounts of antioxidants, a study conducted at the University of Illinois indicated that darker honey, specifically, honey from buckwheat flowers, delivers 20 times the antioxidants as does honey that comes from sage. Honey from clover, the most common honey available, received scores that placed it in the middle of the rankings. While these results are intriguing, it should be noted that research on honey is still in progress. Until we learn more about micro constituents in honey, it is probably best to consider it as a delicious food choice that contains some nutrients rather than a nutrient-rich food to be consumed in large amounts.

Varieties

There are about 300 varieties of honey in the U.S. Depending upon the nectar source, honey is available in myriad colors varying from pale clear to rich dark amber. Its unique flavor is attributable to the floral source from which the honey bees obtained nectar. The color of the honey also depends upon the source of nectar. In general, honey that is darker tends to be bolder in flavor and also has a higher concentration of minerals and antioxidants.

The USDA has specific color standards designations for honey that include: water white, extra white, white, extra light amber, light amber, amber, and dark amber. Most prevailing honeys found on the supermarket shelf such as clover, alfalfa, and orange blossom, are light amber in color and tend to have a mild, delicate flavor; and conversely, the darker honeys, sometimes available at local farmers' markets (generally from buckwheat and wildflower) will have a stronger, bolder flavor.

Honey of any variety comes in a number of forms including liquid, creme (spun), comb honey, and cut comb honey.

Liquid honey: Used as a syrup for pancakes and waffles or used in a wide variety of recipes, liquid honey is, as you would expect, the most prevalent form of honey in the U.S. Extracted from the honey comb by centrifugal force, gravity or straining, liquid honey is free of visible crystals. Its uses are diverse. Liquid honey labeled "filtered" has gone through a filter to remove fine particles, pollen grains, and air bubbles. "Strained" honey, on the other hand, has had larger particles, such as honey comb, removed, but it may still contain small air bubbles and very fine particles such as pollen.

Creme (spun) honey: Also referred to as whipped honey or sugared honey, creme honey is sold in a crystallized or granulated form. Creme honey is used as a spread, and, though available in the U.S., it is used predominantly in other countries.

Comb honey: Honey that comes from and with honey bees' wax comb is called comb honey (both honey and comb are edible); and honey that has been packaged with chunks of the honey comb is called Cut Comb.

Availability

Honey is available year round in the supermarket. More exotic honeys are available at local farmers' markets or upscale grocers. Each honey will taste a little different depending upon the flowers in the area.

Shopping

Generally, honey is found in the baking section of your supermarket, near the sugars. Choose jars that are clean, not sticky. The honey inside should be liquid, not crystallized.

Storage

Stored in a sealed container, honey can literally remain stable for decades and possibly even centuries! Due to its low moisture content, low pH, and antimicrobial compounds, honey keeps well if kept in a sealed container. However, honey still is vulnerable to chemical and physical changes during storage and should be kept away from heat and light. Honey should not be refrigerated as this will cause it to form crystals. Hoever, it can be returned to its liquid state by placing the jar in a pan of warm or simmering water, or by heating the honey in the microwave.

Preparation

Spoon honey straight from the jar over fruit, pancakes, waffles, or whatever. Use honey as a sweetener in place of sugar in hot drinks. Use honey in place of granulated sugar in desserts that are wet, such as puddings. However, because of its moisture content, honey cannot be directly substituted for sugar in baked goods such as cakes or cookies.

Nutrition Chart

Honey/1 tablespoon

64
Total fat (g)
0
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
0
0.1
Carbohydrate (g)
17
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
0.9


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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