Honey

Honey may be the oldest sweetener known to man – its use predates recorded history.  Remains of honey have been found in the Egyptian pyramids.  This product of honeybees is typically sweeter than granulated sugar by a factor of 25%-40% depending upon the specific flowers from which the bees gathered their nectar.  This means a smaller amount of honey can give the same amount of sweetening as sugar.  The source flowers also dictate the flavor and the color as well.  Honey color can range from very dark (nearly black) to almost colorless.  As a general rule, the lighter the color and the more delicate the flavor, the greater the price the honey will bring.  As you might expect, since honey is sweeter than table sugar, it also has more calories as well — an average of twenty two per teaspoon compared to granulated sugar’s sixteen.  There are also trivial amounts of minerals and vitamins in the bee product while white sugar has none.  Honey is not a direct substitute for table sugar however, its use in recipes may call for a bit of alteration to make them to turn out right.

Although the chance is remote, raw honey may also contain minute quantities of Clostridium botulinum spores so should not be fed to children under one year of age.  PLEASE READ THE POST FROM GERI GUIDETTI CONCERNING THIS BELOW.  Raw honey is OK for older children and adults.

Honey comes in a number of forms in the retail market and all with somewhat different storage characteristics:

WHOLE-COMB:  This is the bee product straight from the hive.  It is the most unprocessed form of honey, being large pieces of waxy comb floating in raw honey.   The comb itself will contain many unopened honey cells.

RAW:  This is unheated honey that has been removed from the comb.  It may contain bits of wax and other small particles.

FILTERED:  This is raw honey that has been warmed slightly to make it easier to filter out small particles and impurities.  Other than being somewhat cleaner than raw honey it is essentially the same.  Most of the trace amounts of nutrients remain intact.

LIQUID/PURE:  This is honey that has been heated to higher temperatures to allow for easier filtering and to kill any microorganisms.  Usually lighter in color, this form is milder in flavor, resists crystallization and generally clearer.  It stores the best of the various forms of honey.  Much of the trace amounts of vitamins, however, are lost.

SPUN, CRYSTALLIZED or CREAMED:  This honey has had some of its moisture content removed to make a creamy spread.  It is the most processed form of honey.  It keeps quite well.  Also available in various flavors.

BUYING HONEY

Much of the honey sold in supermarkets has been blended from a variety of different honeys and some may have even had other sweeteners added as well.  Like anything involving humans, buying honey can be a tricky business.  It pays to deal with individuals and brands you know you can trust.  In the United States you should buy products labeled U.S. GRADE A or U.S. FANCY if buying in retail outlets.  However, be aware there are no federal labeling laws governing the sale of honey, so only honey labeled pure is entirely honey and not blended with other sweeteners.  Honey grading is a matter of voluntary compliance which means some producers may be lax in their practices.  Some may also use words like “organic”, “raw”, “uncooked” and “unfiltered” on their labels, possibly to mislead. Fortunately, most honey producers are quite honest in their product labeling so if you’re not certain of who to deal with, it is worthwhile to ask around to find out who produces a good product.

Honey may also contain trace amounts of drugs used in treating various bee ailments, including antibiotics.  If this is a concern to you, then it would be wise to investigate with your local honey producer what they may have used.

STORING HONEY

Honey is much easier to store than to select and buy.  Pure honey won’t mold, but may crystallize over time.  Exposure to air and moisture may cause color to darken, flavor to intensify and may speed crystallization as well.  Comb honey doesn’t store as well liquid honey so you should not expect it to last as long.

Storage temperature is not as important for honey, but it should not be allowed to freeze or exposed to high temperatures if possible. Either can cause crystallization and heat may cause flavor to strengthen undesirably.

Filtered liquid honey will last the longest in storage.  Storage containers should be opaque, airtight, moisture and odor-proof.  Like any other stored food, honey should be rotated through the storage cycle and replaced with fresh product.

If crystallization does occur, honey can be reliquified by placing the container in a larger container of hot water until it has melted.  Avoid adding water to honey you intend to keep in storage or it may ferment.

Avoid storing honey near heat sources or petroleum products (including gasoline/diesel engines), chemicals or any other odor-producing products which may infuse through plastic packaging.

RAW HONEY AND BOTULISM

From: Geri Guidetti arkinst@concentric.net

Duane Miles wrote:
> If I recall correctly, honey contains very, very small amounts of the bacteria that cause botulism.
> For adults, this seldom causes problems.  Our immune system is capable of dealing with small
> numbers of even nasty bacteria, they do it all the time.  The problem is when we get large numbers
> of bacteria, or when our immune system is damaged or not yet developed.

> That is where the problem with honey comes in.  Some people used to use honey to sweeten milk
> or other foods for infants.  Infants immune systems sometimes cannot handle the bacteria that
> cause botulism, and, of course, those infants became seriously ill.  So pediatricians now advise
> strongly against using honey for children under a certain age.

Yes, raw honey can contain the temperature resistant spores of Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism.  The organism is a strict anaerobe, meaning that it only grows in the absence of molecular oxygen.  The problem with infants and honey is that the small, intestinal tract of an infant apparently is sufficiently anaerobic to allow the spores to germinate into actively growing C. botulinum organisms.  Essentially, the infant serves the same role as a sealed, airtight, contaminated can of beans as far as the organisms are concerned.  There in the infant’s body the bacteria secrete the dangerous toxin that causes the symptoms of botulism.  There have been quite a few documented infant deaths due to honey.  As I recall, the studies identifying honey as the source were done in the ’80s.  Most pediatricians recommend no honey for the first year.  It is probably best to check with your own for even later updates…Geri Guidetti, The Ark Institute

EDITOR’S NOTE: The advice not to give raw honey or foods containing raw honey to infants under one year of age still stands.  Do please understand, though, that honey is not the only means by which infants can suffer from botulism, in many of which cases no certain source of contagion could ever be determined.  The actual chances of any infant being stricken is very, very small and keeping the child’s colon open, active and healthy can reduce it still more.  Breastfed children seem to be more resistant as well.

HONEY OUTGASSING

Q:  My can of honey is bulging.  Is it safe to use?

A:  Honey can react with the can lining to release a gas especially when stored over a long period of time.  Honey’s high sugar content prevents bacteria growth.  If there is no sign of mold growth, it is safe to eat. FREQUENTLY ASKED FOOD QUESTIONS, FN250