Did you know that for one 500g glass of honey, a bee theoretically circles the world 3 times? - Crazy right?
If you've seen my Bakd&Raw brand logo, you can probably guess that I have a special relationship to honey and feel very connected to the most natural insect-derived product out there. Not only is honey a super delicious food by itself with an incredible flavor profile, it is also the most nutritious "pure sweetener" we have.
I know that steeling the bees laboriously acquired main source of energy is a controversial topic by itself. But if we start reading food labels, buy from a known and ideally local source, where we can be sure that no be has been harmed in the process, there's nothing better we can do for our health than occasionally replacing processed sweeteners with the liquid golden superfood honey.
You wonder why? This article is all about the why! - Let's start with a brief definition of honey and take a look at the harvesting methods of the yellowish/golden syrup. Then, let's go over the magical health benefits of regular honey intake and as well as the differentiating factors of the endless honey varieties bulking up in our supermarket isles. I will list my go-to shopping rules for honey and close with my favorite honey use cases - the best honey recipes.
In summary the article is structured as follows,
1. What is honey?
2. How is honey made and how is honey harvested?
3. What are the health benefits of honey?
4. Types of honey? Plus, what is actually Manuka honey?
5. Honey Shopping Tips & what to look out for when shopping honey?
6. Honey in action - The best naturally sweet honey recipes out there
Honey is a natural product formed from the nectar of flowers by honeybees. It is the only insect-derived natural product, and it has nutritional, cosmetic, therapeutic, and industrial values. The golden superfood consists of a mix of water, up to 30 different types of sugars including fructose and glucose, as well as a rich variety of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, enzymes, amino acids & flavonoids.
Honey is a sugar. Yet, unlike its refined counterparts, one with a considerably rich nutrient profile. It does not need refrigeration, never goes bad, and can even be stored unopened at room temperature in a dry place.
Bees start by collecting nectar (or honeydew) from flowers, a rather watery, sugary liquid. The bees enrich the collected nectar with enzymes during transport and break it down into simple sugars inside their gut. Once the honeybees arrive in the honeycomb, where the nectar is stored, they hand the collected nectar over to the stick bees which chew and store the collectibles in the honeycomb. During this process most of the water evaporates leaving honey as a viscous, very sweet golden liquid.
Depending on the plant from which the nectar was collected by the bees, the honey is darker or lighter in color.
Honey is only harvested when it contains less than 18% water, which typically is around Mid-End July every year in Germany and many parts of Europe.
Once, the 18% mark has been reached (enough water has evaporated) and the honey is "ready", the stick bees seal the cells containing honey in their beehive. Harvesters or beekeepers collect the honey by removing the sealing made from beeswax. After it is extracted, it is strained to remove impurities and then stored in proper recipients, ideally glass jars.
The health benefits of honey have been proven to be plenty. Keep reading to find out about the medicinal value of honey and all the health benefits of making honey an integral part of your daily diet!
Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals, organic compounds that can potentially cause damage in our bodies and are linked to many diseases. One of the advantages of honey is that, since it comes from the nectar of flowers and plants which are rich in antioxidants, it has phenolic compounds, highly antioxidant molecules.
One of the benefits of eating honey is that it can contribute to fighting chemical agents that promote cellular decay, preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
One of the many medicinal uses of honey is fighting inflammation. It is thought that inflammation is a factor in the development of some diseases. Many biomedical researchers are interested in learning how nutrition can prevent inflammation-related illnesses.
Honey is good for our health because of its phenolic compounds that can target inflammatory response. According to a study recently published in the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies scientific journal, eating honey everyday can act against inflammation in two ways; the chemical compounds that are in it can make our cells synthesize fewer molecules that produce inflammation and help them make more molecules that act on inflammation such as prostaglandins.
Honey has been used for wounds since ancient times when we didn’t even know what bacteria or infections were. Humans have known about the healing properties of honey for a long time.
The high viscosity of honey, when used as an ointment for injuries, acts as a barrier, blocking external agents that could potentially cause damage to the body entering it through the open wound. Also, some types of honey have an enzyme that oxidizes glucose, making hydrogen peroxide, which is deadly for bacteria.
To understand this seemingly contradictory property, first, we must know the basics of Diabetes Mellitus; briefly explained, the bodies of diabetic patients can’t process glucose as well as healthy people because they have lost the ability to do so. That is what causes the symptoms and complications of this chronic illness, and treatments are mainly focused on reducing glucose absorption. This can be achieved by limiting the consumption of foods rich in sugars or ingesting substances that modify the rate of absorption of glucose. Honey helps with the latter method.
It seems to be the medicinal value of honey for diabetes is that it can promote insulin production, the hormone that helps the body process glucose. However, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because studies on the subject are relatively new and diabetic patients should always consult medical professionals about what foods are safe to consume for them.
Have you ever taken a tea with honey for a cold? This ancient remedy has been passed to you probably by your mother or your granny, and it seems to have a scientific backup.
A meta-analysis made in 2020 of 14 scientific studies on the subject, has found out that in many instances honey was superior to usual methods to improve the symptoms of infections of the respiratory tract. These are very good news because the medical field has been fighting antibiotic resistance for years.
As your grandmother has always known, honey is a cheap, effective alternative to traditional medical methods that can relieve your sore throat and coughing, all without contributing to the antibiotic crisis.
We have talked about how honey protects your stomach against ulcers, but it can help your intestines as well! Turns out that honey is great for the mucous membranes that are part of the internal lining of your gastric tract, helping you keep your gut healthy and thriving.
To conclude: We could go on and on talking about the health benefits of integrating honey into our daily diet. What I'd love you to take away from this paragraph is - if consumed in moderation (honey is still a sugar), honey can be super nutritious and a wonderful natural and nutrient-loaded replacement for the classic, super-refined white sugar which has zero nutritional value.
Honey is produced, celebrated and consumed all around the world. In total, around 600.000 beekeepers produce 250.000 tons of honey, beeswax, bee pollen, royal jelly & propolis annually within the EU alone. China produces around double the amount with an estimate of 500.000 tons of honey annually.
Fun fact, the Germans are the number one consumers of honey with over 1kg of honey per person annually. And since not only the Germans but the the European Union is so fond of the golden liquid honey, the EU imports around 200.000 tons of honey per year from countries, such as China, Ukraine, Argentina & Mexico.
But not all honey is created equal. Since flora and geographic circumstances highly differ from country to country, honey types also vary depending on their origin. Honey is typically classified into two main categories - blossom honey and honeydew honey.
The blossom honey category includes for example, rape honey, clover honey, lavender honey, acacia honey as well as the famous New Zealand Manuka Honey. The honeydew honey category on the contrary, includes all honey types made with honeydew such as, general the popular German "forest honey", Spruce Honey, Fir Honey, Linden Honey and Pine Honey.
Blossom honey is characterized by a light yellow-golden color and a very mild and creamy taste. Honeydew honey, in contrast, contains a rather dark brownish color and has a tangy, sometimes mildly bitter taste.
Some of you have surely heard about the new "superfood Manuka Honey" - a type of honey popular for its in-vitro detected strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal effect. Because of its low pH and high osmolarity, Manuka honey can create an environment in which microbes can’t thrive and therefore naturally stops its growth.
In a study on the antibacterial properties of honey published in 2005 in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, Manuka Honey has shown to be effective against Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium extremely resistant to classic antibiotics like Penicillin.
Also, very interestingly, it was effective against Helicobacter pylori, one of the main causes of stomach ulcers. In the gut, honey can promote the repair of damaged tissues and stimulate the growth of new ones.
Is Manuka honey the best for your health? - In my personal opinion, it all comes down to what we eat throughout the day. A Tbsp of Manuka honey a day, definitely "won't keep the doctor away" if the rest of your diet is highly questionable. However, honey overall - no matter if Manuka honey or any other raw type of honey makes a great addition to a healthy lifestyle.
In my opinion, there are 3 main things to look out for when shopping honey. They are
1. Label-reading is a must: Make sure you buy pure, raw honey that hasn't been heat-treated throughout the process. Only raw, natural honey contains the valuable nutrients we are looking for when consuming honey.
2. Don't buy the cheapest honey you find in the supermarket isle: A price is usually a great indicator for what happened in the supply chain. A 500g glas of honey for less than 3 EUR is a great indicator that someone along the chain lost - and most likely it's not the supermarket you purchase the honey from.
3. Try to buy local honey, if possible: By buying from a local beekeeper you don't only support the local environment and the preservation of local bee hives. As local blossom honey is made from flowers that naturally surround you on a daily basis, the honey can also positively influence your immune system.
If you can't find a local beekeeper nearby, then I'd say, support a company you trust! My personal favorite and a company I can recommend is Beegut. All of their products are raw and they put great emphasis on working in close collaboration with the beekeepers they source their honey from. Plus, from a taste perspective, their honey is amazing. I personally love their flower honey with propolis. It almost sparkles if you open the glass.
Note: I also get a lot of honey from local farmers nearby which I use for my salad dressings and co. My Mum's cousin for example, is our primary honey supplier. :)
I keep saying it but I must repeat the phrase for honey as well: The sky is the limit! Honey is a sugar or sweetener. Hence for everything you'd normally fall back to refined sugar, why don't you use honey instead?
Honey comes with a unique flavor profile as well which may complement to your dish at hand. A wonderful example is raw honey-garlic which you can use a delicious sugar-coating for savory bakes such as the Babka you can see in the image below.
Other options for using honey are all sorts of dessert creams, granola breakfast bowls, cakes, energy bites and of course salad dressings and veggie salsas.
Here are some of my favorite honey-sweetened recipes available on the blog
Plus, always keep in mind that even though your recipe may call for sugar or maple syrup, you may be able to use honey instead.
I hope you enjoyed this little intro into the world of honey bees. Like always, feel free to share your opinion. For example, I'm super curious about your favorite type of honey and honey recipe creations. Just tag me on Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube or Facebook and I'll make sure to repost everything.
Plus, if you have any feedback for me, questions with regards to the recipe or if you just want to say "hi", comment below or shoot me a personal message through my contact form.
Love& Plants, Karo
1. Abuelgasim et al. (2020): "Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis." BMJ Evidence-based Medicine
2. Erejuwa et al. (2012): "Honey - A Novel Antidiabetic Agent." International Journal of Biological Sciences. 913-934.
3. Healthline (2019): "The Top 6 Raw Honey Benefits." Healthline (23 April 2021)
4. Mandal et al. (2011): "Honey: Its Medicinal Property and Antibacterial Activity." Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine
5. National Honey Board (2021): How Honey Is made (23 April 2021)
6. PC, Molan (2001): «Why honey is effective as a medicine. 2. The scientific explanation of its effects.» Honey and Healing (23 April 2021)
7. Ranneh, Yazan, et al. (2021): "Honey and its nutritional and anti-inflammatory value." BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies
8. Samarghandian, Saeed et al (2017): "Honey And Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research." Pharmacognosy Res.
1. European Parliament (2018): Wichtige Zahlen zum Honigmarkt in Europa (17.05.2021)
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