For as long as we can remember, honey has been a soothing, sweet treat. Whether it’s being spread on rolls at dinner or mixed into warm milk before bed, it’s a timeless addition to other meals. It is more than just a sweetener, though – it’s a long-lasting, healthy choice for many meals. Here’s what you should know about the history, properties, and uses of this sweet substance.
A Brief History Of Honey
Humans have been collecting honey for longer than we have written records. There’s a cave painting in Valencia, Spain, depicting the collection of honey more than 8,000 years ago, and it’s never gone out of style.
In the past, beehives were often destroyed to harvest the honey. Rather than risking stings, many beekeepers used smoke to calm the hive and safely remove the contents. From there, the honeycombs could be removed and broken open to harvest the contents. In recent years, beekeeping has shifted to long-term hives – while some honey is removed, the bees are either left with enough to feed themselves or provided an alternative food.
Even more recently, inventions like the Flow Hive have made it easier for amateurs to get involved with beekeeping and extract safe amounts of honey without negatively affecting a hive.
We’ve also seen an increase in the varieties of this natural sweetener put out on the market. The most popular type of honey in the United States is made from clovers – it offers a sweet but mild flavor. However, almost any type of flower (from fruits and berries to herbs and wildflowers) can be used to make honey, and many of them have distinctive flavors.
Most commercial sources of this sweet substance are blends of two or more types. Small differences in flowers can lead to different tastes, so mixing honey into larger batches helps to create a consistent, even taste in any given year. Most honey is extracted in Autumn – its incredible shelf life (see below) means it can be sold throughout the year.
Is It Worth Harvesting My Own Honey?
That depends on how much of an investment you want to make. Even user-friendly products like the Flow Hive cost at least several hundred dollars – and that’s not counting the time you’ll need to spend taking care of the hive. It’s not like growing herbs, where you can buy a $5 plant at the store and raise it for years.
That said, if you want to raise your own beehives, you certainly can. Just be aware that they’re a long-term investment, and you’ll need to harvest for quite some time to break even on the investment. The good news is that once your honey is ready, it’s going to last – which brings us to our next section.
The Incredible Properties Of Honey
When stored correctly and kept away from moisture, honey lasts as long as its container does – which could be hundreds or even thousands of years. Most of this has to do with three components naturally found in this sweet substance: sugar, gluconic acid, and hydrogen peroxide.
The presence of sugar inhibits fermentation, so the honey’s chemical composition doesn’t change while it’s being stored. (The reversal of this process – inducing fermentation by adding water and yeast – is how mead is made.) This separates honey from most other liquids and makes it ideal as a long-term preserver.
Meanwhile, the gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide make honey faintly acidic and incredibly antibacterial. Nasty things just don’t grow in this sweet liquid, so there’s no chance of contamination even after it’s been stored for a long time.
This long shelf life means there’s no need to search for ‘fresh’ honey. If it’s stored in a good container – glass is the best choice for long-term storage – you can buy honey from years or even decades ago without sacrificing any of its nutritional value. Try to avoid plastic containers, since they can leach chemicals into the honey.
The antibacterial properties make honey one of the most popular remedies for sore throats. When mixed with pineapple juice – an excellent choice for dissolving mucus in the throat – honey can coat the esophagus and kill the bacteria causing the soreness.
In some cases, people like to smear honey on open wounds. This helps to kill any bacteria that have already made their way into the cut while simultaneously forming a barrier to keep out other infections. Manuka honey is the best choice for this – some types of processed honey aren’t as effective for this (or worse, they may help spread infections instead of inhibiting it).
Which Honey Is Best For Health Benefits?
When deciding which honey is best for health benefits, go for raw honey as much as you can. Many commercially-available honey products are almost entirely sugar and lack the benefits of pure, raw honey.
For treating injuries, Manuka honey is the best healing honey. This type of honey is typically rated by the amount of ‘Unique Manuka Factor’, or UMF, present. A rating of 5 or higher is necessary to get meaningful health benefits. Ratings of 10+ are acceptable for use in clinics, while 15+ is of superior quality. In many cases, Manuka honey is processed into a gel (and this keeps the benefits).
Manuka honey is also excellent for table use, though it’s more expensive than most other types of honey. If you want the best product, this is it.
Otherwise, look for a balance between flavor and health benefits. Each strain of honey has different characteristics, and there are far too many varieties to go into detail here. Fortunately, a quick search for any given strain should provide all the information you need.
Personally, we recommend buckwheat honey for treating coughs, and most types of local honey if you can get them. These products are made from the pollen in your area, making them ideal for boosting resistance to seasonal allergies (and thus getting some of the wild honey benefits that actually matter).
Healthy Recipes Using Honey
You can’t make honey yourself – that’s the job of the bees, and no amount of mixing or stirring will help. Remember, you want to get the raw honey health benefits – processed honey that’s mostly just sugar defeats the purpose.
Kale Salad with All-Day Dressing
This delicious, healthy salad pairs well with steak and chicken.
- 2 & 1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
- 2 Tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 Tbsp minced almonds
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
- 2& 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp raw honey
- 1/4 Tsp kosher salt
- 5 oz. (6 cups) baby kale
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup basil
- 1 cup baby heirloom tomatoes, halved
- Add the oil and garlic to a skillet and cook over medium-low heat until garlic is golden (about 3 minutes). Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and reserve it.
- Transfer the oil to a small food processor.
- Add the cheese, almonds, thyme, lemon juice, honey, and salt to the food processor. Process until well combined.
- Mix the kale, parsley, and basil together in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing.
- Arrange 1 & 1/4 cups of salad on each plate (or more, depending on how hungry you are).
- Divide tomatoes and garlic evenly on top of each salad.
Honey Chia Seed Pudding
This cold treat is a simple, delicious snack during summer.
- 2 Tbsp raw honey
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 6 Tbsp chia seeds
- 1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
- Fresh berries of choice
- Granola (optional)
- Combine the coconut milk, chia seeds, vanilla, and honey in a medium bowl.
- Mix thoroughly, until the honey has completely dissolved.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. If possible, refrigerate overnight.
- Stir well immediately before serving and divide into individual portions.
- Serve with fresh berries and granola (if desired).
Baked Salmon With Honey Mustard Sauce
Honey is healthy, but so is salmon – and this delicious dish combines them for one incredibly nutritious meal.
- 4 six- to seven-ounce salmon fillets, with skin on
- 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup raw honey
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped chives, plus extra for garnish
- Kosher salt
- Freshly-ground white pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- Line a large baking sheet with a nonstick silicone liner. Put the salmon skin-down on top of the liner and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir the mayonnaise, mustard, honey, and chives together. Reserve half.
- Spoon the first half of the sauce over the fish, evenly covering the top and sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- Roast for 7 minutes or until fish is opaque in the center.
- Switch the oven to broil, and broil the fish for an additional 6-7 minutes. Do not overcook.
- Garnish with extra chives and serve with the remaining sauce.