There’s lots of “buzz” about the goodness of honey. Now, you can “bee” knowledgeable about the different types of honey on the market.
Honey is so delicious and rich that it has been described as liquid gold. Just like metal, it is precious. Did you know that it takes 12 bees their entire lifetime to make just one tablespoon of honey? If you’ve ever gone to a fresh yogurt shop or walked the aisles of a local grocery store or fresh food market, you might be bombarded with a large selection of honey. Examples include alfalfa, buckwheat, clover, manuka, and wildflower, just to name a few. Some are raw. Some are pasteurized. Some are organic. Some are filtered. Some are unfiltered. So, with all the variations out there, you might be wondering which is best? Let’s jump in…
Honey is made by bees from the nectar of flowers. The nectar is removed from the hives, a structure of hexagon shaped cells made of honeycomb and propolis, the latter which is collected by bees from tree buds. Bees convert the nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation. Then, they store it as a primary food source in their honeycombs. Less than 5 percent of bee species make honey and only honeybees and stingless bees produce enough honey for harvesting. While it is possible to purchase honey in its purest and unadulterated form, many of the products we see on store shelves have undergone some type of processing, such as filtration or heating to enhance quality and shelf-life.
Pure honey means you are buying 100% honey. It ensures that there are no other foreign ingredients added such as corn syrup made from the starch of corn. Raw honey is a broad term to mean the product has been kept in its natural state. It has not been heated or filtered. Pasteurized means the product has been heated to destroy sugar-tolerant yeasts to extend its shelf life and increase the product’s smoothness. Heating honey may destroy its natural enzymes and probiotics, so less processing is frequently preferred. Filtering honey is a process to remove small particles, but it is different than straining. With filtration, honey is heated to make the filtering process easier, so it is no longer raw. Unfiltered honey is less processed than filtered and it contains more pollen and wax particles. Unfiltered honey may or may not be raw. Organic honey is produced from the pollen of organically grown plants without chemical miticides to treat the bees. Thus, it’s important to read labels to understand what you are buying.
Mainly, honey is used by consumers as a natural sweetener. In general, honey may safely be incorporated into the human diet, except for babies younger than age one who should not be given honey due to botulism risks. Those with medical conditions, such as diabetes or allergies, should check with their doctor before consuming honey. While honey contains mostly sugar, there is also a complex mix of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, iron, zinc, and antioxidants, making the product beneficial for human health. Honey works as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial agent per the Mayo Clinic. It can do amazing things such as support immune system health, aid in digestion, soothe sore throats, reduce coughs, and more. Topically applied, it can be used to treat burns.
Honey varies in nutritional composition, processing methods, and other individual factors, and not all are made equally. In fact, some supermarkets may sell products that are so modified that they lack the nutrients of healthy pure honey, so buyers beware. The colors, textures, and flavors of natural honey differ, largely based on the floral/nectar source visited by the honeybees. In fact, honeys can taste dramatically different. Alfalfa honey, produced from purple blossoms, is common in the U.S. and Canada. Likewise, most people in the states are also familiar with clover honey, another widely popular variety. Bees love to visit abundant clover flowers to gather nectar to take back the hive. The taste of clover honey is mildly sweet but varies due to type of clover source. Wildflower honey is used to describe honey from miscellaneous sources which are undefined. Honeybees use nectar to create their crops, but they also bring back pollen, “…creating a subtle and unique addition to the properties of every single jar.” Per ManLake, no two beehives or jars of raw local honey are the same. Beehive locations and the environment can also influence honey quality. Each batch uniquely reflects the temperature or rainfall that the hive experiences, so every jar is special.
Honey is a terrific natural sweetener and a wonderful addition to any meal. It can be stirred into coffee or tea, drizzled on toast or pancakes, used in dressing and marinades, mixed into yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal, used to glaze ham, or spread over toast topped with peanut butter, as some examples. This edible delight is graded by color, with the clear and golden amber honey generally available at a higher price than some darker varieties. Honey is beloved for its medicinal properties, providing relief from colds when used as a natural cough remedy. It is even known to reduce heartburn due to its viscosity. While this “liquid gold” is likely a wonderful thing to incorporate into most diets, the American Heart Association recommends consuming it in moderation using their guidelines. In conclusion, there are many types of honey available on the market and every jar is unique. It is important to read labels to understand what you’re getting. To retain the most natural color, flavor, and texture, and to obtain health benefits, pure honey with little to no processing is likely the best way to go.
Questions about your use of honey? Have a conversation with your physician to discuss what is right for you.
This article is purely informational and is not intended as medical advice or a medical resource.