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What Honey Can Do For You

Modern science is finally beginning to catch up to the wisdom of the ancients and, of course, Pooh. There is an increasing body of research supporting the positive nutritional value of honey, especially single varietal (mono-floral) honeys that have received minimal processing. The vitamins found in honey may include, (depending on the floral variety,) niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid; minerals present include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Additionally, evidence is growing for the health and therapeutic benefits of honey – including certain honeys that have high antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that, among other things, inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms and promote the rapid healing of wounds.

Just as the color and flavor of honey varies by floral source, so does the vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and amino acid content. Short of spelling out a lengthy dissertation on all the research regarding the healthful benefits of honey, suffice it to say that the darker, aromatic honeys – the ones with more stuff in them -- have the most healthful and therapeutic properties.

But it is the culinary uses of honey that I think about a day to day basis. Honey is far more useful than just as a sweetener for tea or a glaze for the holiday ham. On a dry basis, honey is about 25% sweeter than cane sugar. This means you need to use less honey to sweeten your tea. (Liquid honey is approximately as sweet as sugar, yet it contains only 82.4 g carbohydrates per 100 g versus 100 g for cane sugar – now there is a way to cut carbs.) The rule of thumb for substituting honey for sugar in baking and cooking is to use ½ to ¾ cup of honey instead of 1 cup of sugar, but to decrease the other liquids in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of sugar substituted. I recommend you substitute honey for all the sugar in a recipe you should experiment, first by substituting ½ the sugar, then ¾ the sugar, and then all of it. Also, when baking with honey, you should also decrease the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent too much browning.

In addition to decreasing calories and increasing flavor, the use of honey in baked goods makes them chewier and helps them stay fresher longer. Honey is hygroscopic, so it attracts and holds moisture. The honey in cakes, cookies, and breads will pull moisture from the surrounding air, delaying the staling process.

Honey also has a place in the seriously savory kitchen, and as more than just a wonderful and versatile flavoring agent. The use of honey in marinades, especially for meat, aides in the browning process. Additionally, it has been found to inhibit subsequent micro-biotic action and limit the production of potential cancer-causing compounds called Heterocyclic Aromatic Amines (HAAs) when marinated steak and chicken were fried or grilled to the point of "charring."

The unique characteristics of honey have also been shown to affect the sourness, bitterness, and saltiness of foods to a greater degree than sugar. The range of possibilities for the use of honey in both sweet and savory applications is as great as the number of recipes that call for a sweetener, and then some. Just a few tastes usually convert even the most skeptical. Honey is a great way to expand the flavor palate of your kitchen, sweet and savory. Lavender Honey Ice Cream, Blue Cheese and Walnuts drizzled with Wild Pine Honey, and a Walnut Oil Vinaigrette with Leatherwood Honey are just some of the possibilities. But, whether you just stick to your tried and true squeeze bear, or take a chance on the world of mono-floral varietal honey, just make sure you know what you're buying!

Next article >> Where Does Your Honey Come From?

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