Definition: Honey is a natural sweetener that is made by bees, usually by the genus Apis (commonly known as "honeybees"). Bees make honey from the nectar of flowers and use it to feed their young hives. Bees regularly produce a surplus of honey, so beekeepers can harvest honey from bee hives without harming the bees
How is Honey Used?
For over 8,000 years, honey has been used as a sweetener. Prior to the introduction of sugarcane from the New World in the 1400s, honey was one of the main sweeteners used in Europe. In ancient times, honey was used for a wide variety of uses, including the treatment of burns, the embalming of the dead in Egypt, burial rites in Georgia and elsewhere, and cooking in many places.
Today, honey is primarily used for culinary purposes. It is a popular sweetener in baked goods because it is beneficial to the chemistry of many baking recipes. It is a popular sweetener for drinks because it is liquid, and as such is easily mixed into hot or cold drinks. It is also popular as an accompaniment to cheeses and fruits, as well as to toast, and it can be fermented into an alcoholic beverage known as mead or honey wine.
Types of Honey
Honey is usually classified by the type of flower the bees gathered nectar from in order to make it. The most common type of honey is clover honey, which has a mild, relatively neutral taste. Other types of honey include:
- Alfalfa honey, which is light with a mild flavor
- Buckwheat honey, which is dark and full-bodied
- Eucalyptus honey, which varies quite a bit, but is usually strong and somewhat medicinal in flavor and aroma
- Manuka honey, which is dark and has a medicinal flavor (and is mainly used for health reasons)
- Orange blossom honey, which is often made from a blend of citrus sources, and is usually lightly colored with a mild citrus taste
- Sage honey, which is heavy bodied, but light in color and flavor
- Tupelo honey, which has a mild but distinctive flavor and pairs well with iced drinks because it has a high fructose content and doesn't granulate unless it is extremely cold, so it dissolves in iced drinks very easily
In addition to these "monofloral" (one flower) types of honey, there are blended honeys (which are made from multiple types of honey), polyfloral honeys (which are usually known as "wildflower honey" and are made when bees harvest nectar from multiple types of flowers), and honeydew honeys (which are made when bees harvest the sweet secretions of aphids or other insects that suck plant sap rather than harvesting plant nectar). Some specialty food shops also offer flavored honeys, which may be flavored with lavender, hazelnut or other flavors.
Raw Honey, Unfiltered Honey & Processed Honey
Honey can also be classified by how it is processed, packaged, divided for sale or left unprocessed. Here are some common types of specialty honeys:
- Chunk honey is honey that is made of one or more pieces of comb honey immersed in extracted liquid honey.
- Comb honey is honey that is still in the honeybees' wax comb. The wax is nearly flavorless, but edible.
- Creamed honey (also known as "whipped honey," "spun honey," "churned honey," "candied honey," "honey fondant" or "set honey") is honey that has been processed to control crystallization. It is spreadable and is popular on toast in the UK (where it is usually called "set honey").
- Dried honey is liquid honey that has been dried until it forms completely solid, nonsticky granules. It is primarily used as garnish for desserts.
- Crystallized honey, also known as "granulated honey" or "candied honey," is honey which has turned semi-solid either naturally or through processing. Many types of honey will naturally granulate over time, but pasteurization delays this process.
- Filtered honey is honey that has been filtered until all or almost all of the air bubbles, fine particles, pollen grains and other materials typically found in suspension have been removed. Filtered honey is clear in appearance and will not crystallize as quickly as unfiltered honey, so it is the most common process used for honey sold in supermarkets.
- Pasteurized honey is honey that has been flash-heated to 161 °F (71.7 °C) or higher. Although this process kills yeast cells and any potential bacteria in the honey, it also lowers the quality of the honey.
- Real raw honey is honey as it exists in the beehive or as it was when it was harvested by extraction, settling or straining. There is no added heat in the making of real raw honey. However, some "minimally processed" honey is also labeled as "raw honey." When taken regularly throughout the year, real, local raw honey is considered to be a natural treatment and preventative for pollen allergies.
- Strained honey is honey that has been strained through mesh to remove particulate, such as pieces of wax or propolis, without removing beneficial materials, like pollen, minerals or enzymes.
- Ultrasonicated honey is honey that has been processed by ultrasonication, a nonthermal processing alternative to pasteurization. Ultrasonication destroys most of the yeast cells that are naturally occurring in honey, thus substantially slowing the rates of crystallization and fermentation of the honey. (However, it is worth noting that honey crystallization is not harmful in any way -- it is merely a visual defect -- and honey has been known to stay "fresh" for over 100 years at a time.)
Honey Coffee Recipes
Honey is a popular sweetener for coffee. Perhaps the most famous honey-sweetened coffee drink is cafe con miel (Spanish for "coffee with honey"), but iced coffee is also commonly sweetened with honey because honey is easier to mix into iced coffee than sugar.
These coffee recipes use honey for sweetness and, sometimes, for other flavor notes:
- Cafe con Miel
- Iced Honey Coffee
- Spiced Latte With Honey
- Sesame-Honey Coffee