Honey has been promoted as a super food and cure all for everything from acne to aging – but does it live up to the hype? Manuka, raw, honeycomb, Royal Jelly – what’s the difference? And is honey “better” than sugar? YoFreeSamples wanted to know!
Types of Honey
All honey is produced by bees from the pollen of flowers. The taste and color of honey is affected by the flowers involved and how the honey is – or isn’t – processed. Clover honey is the most common and has a delicate taste that most people enjoy. Other honeys like the Buckwheat, Orange Blossom, Sage or the honey du jour, Manuka, have distinct and usually stronger flavors that make them good choices for baking, sauces or glazes.
One thing to watch out for is honey from China. To be called honey, it must contain actual pollen but a review by the Food and Drug Administration found that over 75% of honey from China had no pollen. Not to dis an entire country, but buying locally produced or high quality European or honey from Australia and New Zealand.
Then there’s Royal Jelly. Made from the secretions of worker bees and meant to feed the Queen Bee, it is full of several vitamins and minerals. It’s also quite sour tasting. There’s some evidence that it may help lower cholesterol and shows promise as a skin care ingredient, but there are other foods that offer the same benefits and taste better.
Most honey is pasteurized – heated and strained to kill bacteria. While pasteurization may make the honey safer, taste will be effected. But heating also keeps honey from crystallizing – hard lumps of “dried” honey. If that happens, place the jar in hot (but not boiling) water to soften them up.
Honey aficionados prefer raw honey in liquid or in honeycombs – cut sections of bee hives with the honey still in place (and yes, you can eat the honeycomb if you want). Without the processing, the full flavor remains intact and it’s easier to taste the variations in different types of honey.
But – Is Raw Honey Safe?
One common criticism about raw honey is that it can cause botulism. It turns out that even pasteurized honey can contain botulism since the temperature used isn’t high enough to kill the toxin. However, most children and adults have a robust enough immune system to handle any trace elements of botulism or other toxins. Just don’t give honey to children under two.
Whether raw or pasteurized, honey’s sugar content is so high it doesn’t allow for bacteria or mold to breed. As long as you keep the container tightly covered, you can keep it at room temperature indefinitely. Just avoid temperature extremes by keeping it away from stoves, ovens or alternating it between inside and outside the refrigerator. Though not harmful, temperature changes will affect the taste, color and consistency.
If you don’t plan to use honey right away after opening, you can freeze it. You’ll need to put it in a larger container since honey expands when it freezes. Let the honey thaw at room temperature before using.
Benefits and Claims
As mentioned, honey’s natural anti-bacterial properties make honey a good choice for face masks and treating cuts. When eaten, however, there is no evidence yet that these same anti-bacterial properties help or interfere with the body’s natural bacteria or digestive processes.
Another benefit of honey is that it’s naturally sweeter than refined cane sugar. That means you may use less to sweeten drinks or in baking. Plus, honey falls lower on the glycemic index meaning that it doesn’t spike insulin production the way cane sugar does. So, no sugar high or that quick drop in energy shortly after eating sweets.
As for curing illnesses, the age-old home remedy of honey and cider vinegar for sore throats or congestion seems to be more soothing than anything else. And the allergy connection – that eating local honey can help reduce allergies – is a bust. Unless you know that exact pollen you’re allergic to – and that the honey contains it – you’re wasting your time.
We could find no definitive studies that proved benefits beyond honey’s topical anti-bacterial effects. That’s not to say you should give it up. Raw honey is considered a staple in the “natural remedy” medicine cabinet – better than most topical anti-bacterial ointments and it never expires! And honey is a great substitute for refined sugar especially if it means you’ll use less sweetener.