Why We’re Sweet on Honey
Published on October 16, 2017
Last updated January 27, 2021
By Amy Sherman
Ancient remedies are squarely in vogue, with bone broth, essential oils, cupping and others enjoying plenty of press and celebrity Instagram love. Add honey to this group of cool, must-have, grandma-approved items, which humans have been utilizing for millennia.
Traditionally, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments ranging from gastric ulcers and indigestion to fungal infections and sore throat. Modern researchers are interested in its amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes, as well as the flavonoids and polyphenols within it that act as antioxidants, and studies show that humans have been smart to use honey to treat coughs in children, as a topical wound treatment and much more.
“Organic, raw honey is a great natural sweetener. In addition to it being an alternative sweetener to white refined sugar, it also has some great healing properties such as being an anti-microbial, therefore it is great for helping to treat a cold or flu,” says naturopathic doctor Melina Roberts, author of Building a Healthy Child. She recommends using it in tea or swallowing a spoonful to soothe a cough or sore throat.
If you’ve seen manuka honey in your health-food store, and wondered why the jars are so much pricier than regular honey, this variety from New Zealand (where the bees pollinate–you guessed it–manuka trees) has more enzymes than others, strengthening its antibacterial properties. It’s been used to treat small-intestine bacterial overgrowth, acne and ezcema, dry eye and other ailments, and preliminary animal research indicates it may be helpful in slowing the progression of breast cancer.
HOW TO SHOP FOR HONEY
There are nearly 300 varieties of honey available in the U.S., thanks to the different types of blooms bees use to make it. Lighter-colored honey, such as clover and orange blossom, is usually milder in flavor than darker honeys like buckwheat and bamboo. Darker honey has more antioxidants than lighter varieties–though not nearly enough to be a significant dietary source; in other words, you still need your vegetables and fruit. Some varieties of honey crystallize more than others, but all will keep indefinitely when stored in a cool, dark place. You can make crystallized honey smooth again by gently heating the jar in a pan of warm water.
Look for “raw” or “unpasteurized” on the label when shopping for honey. This means it’s been filtered but not heated above 95ºF, so it retains all of its nutritional benefits.
“Honey has the ability to take big, bold flavors and balance them out,” says Brian Malarkey, a Top Chef finalist and chef at several restaurants, including Herringbone. “It’s great in barbecue sauce, cocktails, you name it. Just add it to citrus and you’ve got a stellar glaze. It’s liquid, pure, organic sweetness.”
When shopping for honey, consider how you’re planning to use it. Look for mild, amber-colored clover honey for drizzling on biscuits or toast. Golden-hued orange blossom honey is great for baking. Pair darker, bolder buckwheat honey with cheese, or use it to make homemade barbecue sauce. Chestnut honey, which has an almost bitter, spicy character, makes a unique addition to a cheese plate with strong varieties like blue or Parmesan.