Honey is this amazing food that has been with us throughout history – but what is it really?
Is honey this divine food, this ‘nectar of the gods’ that offers health benefits along with a wonderful taste? Or, is it simply a sweetener filled with empty calories that is no better than sugar? If it’s the former, then why is honey good for you?
I’m sure some of you fall into one camp and some into another, but most people are stuck somewhere in the middle – not really sure what honey really does.
This isn’t surprising, as there are so many myths and legends surrounding honey, making it difficult to separate facts from fiction. Here, I’m going to make that separation.
This isn’t about cherry picking evidence or trying to manipulate you. Instead, I’m going to get to the bottom of this honey thing once and for all.
Along the way, I’ll show you the health benefits of honey and what to watch out for. More than anything, I’m going to answer the question of why is honey good for you, because that question honestly does deserve answering.
Health Benefits of Honey
One of the most significant features of honey is its ability to act as an antimicrobial agent. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is particularly significant for manuka and kanuka honey, but other honey types do have some antimicrobial properties.
These properties have also been one of the key areas that marketing has emphasized about honey and it is also the area that has been researched the most. In fact, many of the health benefits of honey are directly connected to its ability to fight bacteria and other microbes (1).
In general, there are two ways that honey acts against microbes.
The first is the result of hydrogen peroxide being produced through the reactions of enzymes – and this happens in all types of honey. The second approach goes beyond this and is only present in a few types of honey, particularly manuka and kanuka (2). It is this second type of antimicrobial action that has the most potential.
However, the antimicrobial activity of honey does vary considerably depending on a range of factors, including the bacteria targeted and the concentration of honey (3).
One study examined the antibacterial activity of a specific variety of honey (Libyan floral Hannon honey) on Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, two common types of bacteria.
The study found that honey was able to significantly reduce the amount of bacterial growth. This decrease was dependent on time and also on the concentration of honey (4).
The activity of honey against bacteria is broad spectrum and effective against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. This distinction refers specifically to the cell wall of the bacteria. The ability of honey to fight a variety of bacteria is an important property and it suggests many therapeutic applications of honey (8).
Manuka honey has also been associated with the ability to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria (9, 10). With bacterial infections and wounds, one major issue is the development of biofilm. This has been linked to impaired healing of wounds.
The methyglyoxal in manuka honey plays a key role in killing wound bacteria that is embedded in biofilms. This suggests that manuka honey offers a potential therapy for some types of bacteria that antibiotics is unable to affect (11).
Honey, especially manuka honey, has important antimicrobial properties
Honey, Sore Throats, Coughs and the Common Cold
Honey is often promoted as a way of relieving symptoms of the common cold, including sore throats and coughs. In some cases, this can involve sucking on a spoonful of honey, while another common approach is having a hot drink that contains honey and lemon juice.
One study looked at the impact of honey on sleep quality and coughing in children who had upper respiratory tract infections. The study used a sample of 105 children and compared across three treatment groups.
The authors found that treatment with honey was as effective as dextromethorphan, which is the common active ingredient of cough suppressant medication (12).
Another study on this topic looked at the outcomes of three randomized controlled trials on the topic, with a total of 568 children across the study.
The authors found evidence that honey was better than no treatment or than a placebo, but indications that it was not as good as the medicated cough suppressant dextromethorphan (13). The authors argued that overall the outcome was not enough evidence to recommend for or against using honey to treat coughs in children.
A third study indicated that honey might have a small benefit in reducing coughs through a review of eight different randomized controlled trials (14). The authors argued that overall there is not enough evidence available to know the true impact of honey on coughs and that the current research has a high potential to be biased.
Even though the evidence is limited for using honey in this role, it is still worth trying out. If nothing else, it is an inexpensive treatment for symptoms. This makes it worth trying in most cases. Additionally, if honey or a drink with honey is given to a child with cold symptoms, the process may help to treat some of their symptoms even if the honey itself doesn’t make a difference (the placebo effect).
Finally, it is easy to have honey in the house at all times, but it is far too easy to be out of cough medicine at the wrong time.
Soothing Burns and Treating Wounds
An unusual health benefit of honey is its potential ability to soothe burns. This largely applies to non-major burns, but it can be an effective treatment.
Home remedies for burns can be tricky, because many approaches (like aloe vera gel or even butter) can potentially increase the likelihood of infection. However, honey doesn’t have this issue because it has antibacterial properties of its own.
This means that honey is a good choice for soothing burns, especially if you do not have burn cream in the house or if you prefer natural solutions.
There is some scientific support for this perspective, although the amount of research looking specifically at healing burns has been relatively limited (15). Any type of honey will work in this role, but manuka is potentially the best as it has been associated with much stronger antibacterial properties.
An extension of this role is the use of honey as a form of wound treatment. Research on the topic has primarily focused on whether it is safe to use honey in this application and whether doing so helps to improve wound healing times.
In addition to its antibacterial function, honey can also help to support the immune system during wound healing by inhibiting or promoting the release of specific molecules in the body. This process can potentially result in more effective wound healing (16). Honey has also been associated with tissue growth stimulation and minimizing the formation of scars (17).
One of the challenges with the topic (as with burns) is that many studies have been conducted post-intervention in cases where honey was used as a component of treatment.
Because of this, there is often considerable variation in the approaches used and honey is often tested as a treatment in conjunction with other treatments and often without a control group. Furthermore, the type of wound that the honey is used on also tends to vary considerably across studies.
One study attempted to evaluate current knowledge looking at the outcomes of 25 different trials, with a grand total of 2,987 patients across the trials. The authors found that honey could potentially delay healing in some cases and but honey may be superior to conventional materials for dressing in other cases (18).
However, some independent studies have had more positive outcomes.
For example, one study indicated that honey with strong antibacterial properties might be effective in treating chronic wounds where antibiotic resistance in an issue.
The authors suggested that manuka and kanuka (a close relation) honey may be particularly effective types of honey for this role because both varieties have antibiotic activity beyond the action of hydrogen peroxide (19).
Another study used a randomized controlled design to look at the role of honey in 75 cases. The study looked specifically at wound healing for women who were undergoing a cesarean section. The authors found that the group receiving honey healed faster than the group that received a placebo (20).
A prospective study also looked at the use of honey in healing following a tonsillectomy, finding that honey offered a safe and effective treatment (21). Likewise, honey may be helpful for relieving pain associated with a tonsillectomy (22).
There has also been some interest in using honey specifically to treat diabetic wounds. Diabetic wounds can be a challenge to treat because they heal slower than normal, which makes the use of conventional treatments challenging.
One study looked at the treatment of diabetic foot wounds with dressings soaked in honey. The authors found that the treatment helped patients and helped to decrease the rate of amputations that can sometimes be needed as the result of diabetic foot issues (24).
Honey has the potential for soothing and healing wounds and burns, although effectiveness varies across wound types
Other Health Benefits of Honey
Most research on honey has focused on its antimicrobial roles and therapeutic uses of these roles. However, some other potential health benefits have also emerged as the result of research. While these benefits tend to still be in the early stages of research, they offer evidence that honey offers substantial benefits for overall health.
One example of this is cancer. In developing nations there is an inverse relationship between cancer and honey. These are countries where treatment for cancer is relatively rare, which indicates that honey may have an anticancer action.
The mechanism of this potential action is unknown, but some indications include honey inhibiting cells from replicating or promoting the destruction of cells (25).
It is likely that there are also other health benefits of honey that have not been discovered yet. After all, despite recent interest in honey, artificial medical advances and products tend to get more research overall and more funding.
Manuka honey is generally considered the healthiest option, largely because of its antimicrobial impacts. Nevertheless, you can still get many benefits by simply focusing on raw honey.
Honey has also been associated with inhibiting cancer and preventing heart disease
External Uses of Honey
The health benefits of honey aren’t just limited to within the body. Instead, honey has been associated with a range of beauty benefits, especially for the skin.
This isn’t too surprising because raw honey contains a lot of nutrients and antioxidants. Additionally, honey can also act as a hydrator, which is a useful component for people with dry skin.
Because of these features, honey has been included in a wide range of beauty regimens, including directly on the skin, stirred in with coconut oil as a pore cleanser or mixed in with baking soda as an exfoliator.
Honey also acts as a good way to moisturize cuticles and a common way of doing this is to mix around one teaspoon of honey with the same amount of apple cider vinegar and then rub the mixture on the cuticles. The mixture can be rinsed off after about five minutes. Honey is also used in a large range of different cosmetic products (27), which offers an indication of its effectiveness in this role.
Honey seems to be particularly good for the skin
Honey, Sugar and GI
Much like sugar, honey is a sweetener. It can be used to make foods sweeter and can be used in the place of sugar in many foods or drinks.
When it comes to a sweetener one thing to consider is the glycemic index (GI). If a food has a high GI (70 or above) it will cause your blood sugar to spike. This means that your blood sugar will increase quickly then suddenly drop back down.
This can cause significant issues, especially for people with diabetes. Food with a score of between 55 and 69 is considered moderate GI. This type of food will still raise blood sugar, but not as quickly.
Finally, foods scored below 55 are considered low GI and help to keep your blood sugar stable. A healthy diet should primarily focus on low GI foods and may include some moderate and high GI foods.
The average GI levels for some key sweeteners are given below (28,29,30,31,32,33). Please note that these are all averages, as the GI can vary significantly depending on factors like the manufacturer and recipe.
GI levels are not necessarily an indication of the health of a sweetener per se, but it can help in the decision-making process.
For example, artificial sweeteners tend to have close to no GI, but this doesn’t make them healthy. Instead, they are filled with many artificial ingredients and there are concerns that they may have long-term negative effects on health. It’s also worth noting that the GI of a particular food does tend to vary depending on who measured it and the circumstances that it was measured under. Because of this, you often see different values for the same foods.
Likewise, agave nectar is a low GI sweetener but it isn't a particularly healthy one. You can read more about that issue in our deceptive foods article but the general problem with agave nectar is that it is very high in fructose. Incidentally, that's a key reason why sugar and high fructose corn syrup are so bad for our health.
Now in the case of honey, the GI isn’t as simple as it seems. There is a wide range of variation in the GI of honey and much of this is related to the specific variety of honey used. For example, one study found manuka honey to have GI values from 54 to 59 (34). Another source reports the average GI for honey at 61, but does not note what type of honey this refers to or whether it is raw or processed honey (35).
An even more telling example is the following graph, which uses data from Arcot and Brand-Miller (2014).
The graph shows that the GI of honey can vary considerably, and there are many other varieties that fall outside of the ranges in this chart. This means that if you are interested in the GI of honey, you need to look at the specific variety that you are eating.
On average, this means that honey works out a little lower than sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which has replaced sugar in many processed foods. However, some of the higher GI honeys, especially processed blends, will tend to be an exception to this rule.
It’s also worth noting that on average honey tends to be a bit sweeter than table sugar. This means that if you are using it in cooking or to sweeten food in general you can use less of it, which can be beneficial for health.
On average, honey tends to have a lower GI than sugar and high fructose corn syrup
Honey and Diabetes
Honey is an interesting topic for people with diabetes. As a sweetener, honey can be used as a replacement for sugar, but is this any better for diabetics? Well, for one thing, both honey and sugar will have an effect on blood sugar, so diabetics have to be careful with either option.
However, with a lower GI and some health benefits, having honey as a diabetic actually makes a lot of sense. After all, sugar doesn't offer health benefits at all.
Diabetics are frequently advised to avoid sugar (and similar sweeteners, such as honey) as much as possible within their diet.
Unfortunately, this means that diabetics end up relying heavily on sugar-free products – which use on artificial sweeteners.
In the long-term, artificial sweeteners may have very negative effects on the body, especially if you are consuming a lot of them.
Despite common advice, honey can actually offer some benefits for people with diabetes.
One recent study on the topic looked at the effects of honey consumption on people with type 1 diabetes. The authors found that honey resulted in improved outcomes, including significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels. The outcomes of the study suggest that long-term honey consumption may be associated with positive outcomes for people with type 1 diabetes (36).
A cross-sectional study also indicated that honey could be effectively used as an alternative for sugar in patients with type 1 diabetes (37).
A similar outcome was found for patients with type 2 diabetes, with one study finding that honey resulted in improvements for multiple diabetic outcomes. However, the authors of the study expressed the need to be cautious as the study did also show an increase in Hb1Ac levels (a measure of how well diabetes is being controlled) as the result of honey consumption (38).
Part of this impact may be the result of honey stimulating beta cells, resulting in improved C-peptide levels (an important outcome for type 1 diabetes) (39). The presence of oligosaccharides is thought to be significant also (40).
The antioxidant action of honey is also thought to play a role, although more research into the mechanisms is needed before solid conclusions can be drawn.
Certainly, the benefits of honey are much more significant than anything that has been shown for sugar or artificial sweeteners. This suggests that for diabetics honey may be an important addition to the diet as a substitute for sugar, as long as blood sugar levels and carbohydrates are carefully monitored – something that diabetics should be doing anyway.
As more research is conducted, we will hopefully learn about the specific advantages that honey may offer to patients with diabetes.
Despite common advice, honey may actually help people with diabetes and can be a good addition to the diet
These benefits underscore the idea that honey is important for health, and the components of honey certainly help to answer the question, why is honey good for you.
But how much honey do you need to take and how do you include it in your diet?
There hasn’t really been a large amount of research in this area, and ultimately what works for you is going to depend on how much energy you use and the rest of your diet.
However, a good estimate is between one and two tablespoons per day.
This is enough to get the health benefits from the honey without the calorie count being too high.
Honey Cinnamon Benefits
One particularly healthy combination is honey and cinnamon. Both honey and cinnamon offer significant health benefits and they also go together particularly well.
One common way of doing this is to have honey and cinnamon as part of a hot drink first thing every morning. This is a nice sweet way to start off the day and you can also add honey and cinnamon to tea or to coffee if you are so inclined (instead of sugar that is).
There are also many recipes that rely on honey and cinnamon. For example, the site Add a Pinch offers a powerful Cinnamon Honey Butter recipe.
Honey is a sweetener, so you can often use it as a replacement for sugar in recipes. Honey does work particularly well in baking, but this often isn’t a good choice if you are trying to improve your health as many baked goods also tend to be high in calories.
Alternatively, honey can be used as part of many sauces and marinades, such as this Honey Barbecue Sauce recipe from Diethood. Honey is also an effective topping for many types of breakfast, such as granola, oatmeal, fruit and yogurt.
There are lots of ways to include honey in the diet
Selection and Storage
Choosing honey can seem challenging because there are so many different varieties out there. The most important approach is to look for raw honey, as the processing really does have the potential to reduce the health benefits of the honey.
In terms of varieties, manuka tends to offer the most overall health benefits, although not everyone will find the taste appealing.
If you aren’t interested in manuka because of the taste (or the cost), there are lots of other varieties to choose from. The lighter varieties will tend to have a sweeter taste, while the darker ones tend to have a richer and more flavorful taste.
Which works best for you will depend on your own preferences and what you plan on using the honey for.
With most food products, organic variants tend to be better for health. However, this topic is a bit more challenging when it comes to honey.
To start off with, there is no general definition of what honey is in the United States, let alone what constitutes organic honey. Additionally, honey is produced from bees to start off with, so some people argue that all honey is organic. There also isn’t a standard for organic production of honey, so you won’t see many products labeled as organic, even if they are naturally and sustainably produced.
One of the reasons for this is that an organic label would involve the bees only foraging on organic crops. In practice, this would be almost impossible to achieve because of the large distance that bees roam and how closely organic crops are grown to sprayed crops.
Instead, a better area to focus on is how hives are treated. For example, natural beekeeping is an approach that puts the bees ahead of consumers.
Under this approach, beekeepers have a much stronger focus on the health of the bees.
This includes decreasing the amount of chemicals that go into beekeeping and allowing (rather than restricting) natural behaviors of bees.
Traditional beekeeping approaches also tend to drain the hives of all honey, then feed the bees with an artificial supplement to keep them going over winter. In contrast, natural approaches to beekeeping focus on leaving a portion of the honey in the hive so that this can feed the bees over winter.
This is a more natural and ‘hands-off’ approach and it helps to ensure that few chemicals ever make their way into the honey.
So, while you can’t really choose organic honey as such, focusing on natural and sustainable honey producers is the best approach for getting the best quality of honey.
There is no label that can help you to work out whether your honey is naturally produced or not, and the term natural on any food product doesn’t really mean anything.
Instead, the best approach is to pay attention to who you are buying your honey from and what they do.
Most companies that use natural approaches to beekeeping are proud of this practice and are very open about the methods that they use. In contrast, companies that do not use natural approaches tend to be less clear about their methods.
As long as you pay attention to the company that you are buying honey from you should be able to pick honey that is both natural and sustainable.
However, there are some cases where it is possible to get organic honey.
This is mostly true of manuka (and kanuka) honey.
The challenge of producing organic honey comes from how close sprayed fields are to organic crops.
However, this is less of an issue in New Zealand where these types of honey are produced, especially as kanuka is a native crop and manuka has such a strong reputation.
There is a bit of debate about how and where honey should be stored.
Some people argue that you can store honey just about anywhere and it will be perfectly fine. For the most part, this is true, as honey does not spoil in the same way that other products do. Realistically, the worst thing that can happen is that honey will ferment and this doesn't happen often. Even then, fermented honey doesn't pose a health risk.
However, if you want to keep your honey at the same taste and consistency, then paying attention to where and how you store it is important.
Ideally, honey should be kept in a cool and dry area, away from direct sunlight. You also want to avoid temperature fluctuations and extreme temperatures.
The best temperature for your honey is going to depend a bit on the honey itself and whether it is creamed or not. For example, creamed honey will liquefy if the temperature is too warm, while other honey will crystallize if the temperature is too cool.
Even if your honey does crystallize, the process is entirely natural and can be easily reversed by placing the jar of honey in warm water for a while. It is even possible to decrystallize honey in the microwave. However, this approach is more challenging to get right, so I would suggest avoiding it.
Plus, crystallized honey is completely edible and works wonderfully in tea, on oatmeal and in many other ways. In fact, the change in texture can sometimes be an advantage, depending on what you plan on using the honey for.
At the end of the day, keeping honey in a cool and dry area is best if you want the color and consistency to remain like it was when you bought the honey. However, honey is incredibly resilient and you can store it in pretty much any manner without putting your health at risk.
There are many different varieties and types of honey to choose from and keeping honey away from direct sunlight and in a cool temperature is best if you want to preserve the color and consistency of your honey
Honey is a fairly safe product and most people can eat honey without any issues at all.
However, the human body is a complex system and there are some things that you need to be aware of when having honey, especially if you plan to have honey regularly.
Honey and Infants
Infants less than one year of age should not have honey. This is actually true of any raw or unprocessed product. This is because at that age the immune system of infants is not fully developed.
In some cases, honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, which can potentially lead to infant botulism. After a child reaches about one year of age their immune system is strong enough to protect against the bacteria.
This issue means that adults with compromised immune systems (such as those undergoing chemotherapy) should also avoid raw honey.
Honey allergies are pretty rare, but they do occur. Having an allergy to honey isn’t actually about the honey itself. Instead, people who are allergic to bees or to pollen may find that they are also allergic to honey.
However, this allergy is relatively mild and is not life threatening. Some of the symptoms of a honey allergy include an itchy throat, watery eyes, hives or the tongue swelling up.
One of the most effective treatments for a honey allergy is to take antihistamines immediately following honey consumption. In some cases, processed honey may be a way of decreasing allergic reactions because of the decreased amount of pollen. However, as I noted before, the allergic reaction is relatively uncommon and most people won’t have any issues at all with honey.
Amount of Calories
Honey is a sweet substance and on average a tablespoon of honey contains around 64 calories (42) although this can vary a little depending on the variety of honey. This makes honey a fast way to add calories to a meal.
This may be unappealing for people who are trying to lose weight. However, as long as you are aware of the calories that you are consuming, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Additionally, the strong sweetness of honey makes it hard to consume too much of it at one time.
Honey is generally safe but you do need to watch out for allergies and take calories into account
Myths about Honey
Throughout this post, I’ve helped to answer the question ‘why is honey good for you’ and shown that it really does offer health benefits. However, that doesn’t mean that all the claims made about honey are true. Instead, some of those myths and ideas don’t have much truth to them at all.
Honey Helps with Allergies
Many people have the idea that honey, particularly raw honey, can help with allergies. Most of this concept is based on the idea of gradually vaccinating the body against pollen.
The process is called immunotherapy, which basically uses the immune system of the body to combat the health issue or disease. The approach itself does have merit, but it isn’t all that relevant to honey.
This is because the whole argument is based on the pollen in honey. Supporters of the perspective argue that there is enough pollen in honey to help teach the immune system, but not enough to cause allergies.
In reality, the amount of pollen in honey is so low that it isn’t going to have any impact on your allergies one way or another. Even if there was enough pollen in honey to make a difference to your allergies, the approach still wouldn’t be effective.
This is because allergies are set off by pollen that blows in the wind. This is pollen that comes from plants that wind pollinate. In contrast, the pollen in honey comes from insect-pollinated plants, and there is little crossover between the plant types.
As such, if honey did help you build up immunity, it would be helping you build up immunity to something that you weren’t allergic to anyway. Additionally, most people don’t tend to eat that much honey at a time, so the amount of pollen that you are going to consume is going to be very low.
Honey is Toxic in Hot Water
This myth isn’t so common, but it is still out there.
It is an important area to address, because many people use honey as part of hot drinks, especially in the winter time.
The concept is that when honey is placed in hot water it produces a toxic chemical as the enzymes are destroyed. Additionally, the argument is that heating the honey like this is going to destroy many of the health benefits of the honey.
This is unlikely. There is no evidence that honey in hot water is toxic, and really the concept doesn’t even make sense.
Honey is heated to much higher temperatures during pasteurization (for the brands that do that), and even raw honey is heated somewhat to allow it to be put into jars easily. Neither of those processes result in the production of toxic chemicals and having honey in hot water tends to put it at a lower temperature than the temperature of pasteurization.
One study did find that toxic effects on rats are present if honey is heated to above 140°C (284°F) and combined with ghee (43). However, this effect is a specific chemical reaction that occurs between the two products and wouldn’t occur with just honey.
Another theory surrounding toxicity of heated honey comes from the development of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF).
HMF is formed when fructose breaks down in the presence of an acid. The reaction itself is natural, but becomes faster as heat increases. Because of this, the level of HMF can be an indicator of both the age of honey and the heat that it has been exposed to.
Research has suggested that high levels of HMF may be toxic to bees (44,45) and as such may be a driving factor in bee mortality. However, the fact that HMF is toxic to bees doesn’t actually mean that it is toxic to humans.
There are many different compounds that humans can eat that are toxic to other species (like chocolate), and the reverse is true. Whatever impact HMF has on bees is completely irrelevant to the effect it has on humans.
With how long honey has been used in human foods, we would have known before now if heated honey was actually toxic. Additionally, HMF is actually found in a number of foods and is present at significant levels in high-fructose corn syrup, which is frequently used as a substitute for sugar in processed foods.
So, the amount of HMF you get from heating honey is negligible compared to the amount you are already taking in as part of your diet from other sources.
Despite common myths, honey doesn't seem to help with allergies and isn't toxic in hot water
Why is Honey So Sweet?
Honey is as sweet as sugar, but it is a much more natural product. The sweetness of honey comes from the nectar that bees gather.
Plants produce the very sweet nectar as a way of attracting insects. By doing this, the insects (including honey bees) get the sweet nectar while the plants get pollinated.
This is a symbiotic relationship between the plant and the insects.
Nectar itself is composed primarily of glucose and sucrose. These are simple sugars and when bees produce honey they catalyze the breakdown of sucrose into fructose and glucose. This produces a sweet substance.
The sweetness of honey makes it a fantastic sweetener and it has a richer and more interesting taste than sugar.
Does Honey Cause Cavities?
Honey is a naturally sweet product with a high amount of natural sugars. Additionally, it tends to be sticky, meaning that it can stick to your teeth and increase the risk of tooth decay.
Like sugar itself, these factors do mean that honey can contribute to the development of cavities. However, honey’s contribution to tooth decay isn’t really any more severe than standard sugar.
This means that as long as you are careful with your oral hygiene (and you should be anyway), honey won’t really cause any additional risk of tooth decay.
Is Honey in the Grocery Store Unhealthy?
Most of the honey that we typically see on our shelves is a blend of honey from multiple different floral sources. This results in a less distinct honey, which is why most honeys from the grocery store taste similar to one another.
In many cases, the honey that you see in grocery stores won’t identify what flowers the nectar is from.
One of the challenges with honey is that there isn’t actually a legal definition of what is, and is not, honey (except in a few states).
This allows companies to add other ingredients to their honey or to manipulate it in other ways. In fact, there is no guarantee that the honey in the grocery store is entirely made up of honey.
Additionally, most of the honey that you see in grocery stores tends to be heavily processed. This means that many of the beneficial components of honey are processed out of it.
If you want health benefits of honey then it is best to focus on companies where you know the source of the honey and what has been done to it.
Is Fermented Honey Safe?
Honey with a high moisture content can sometimes ferment, especially if that honey is stored in a warm environment.
When honey ferments it is very noticeable, creating a foamy top much like you would see on beer. The fermentation also significantly changes the taste of the honey.
Some people even choose to ferment their honey prior to using it because they prefer the fermented flavor.
However, if you don’t particularly like the taste of fermented honey the best way to avoid it happening is to store the honey in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about honey that has already fermented.
Are Bees Mistreated?
With any product from animals (or insects in this case), there is always some concern about mistreatment.
There are certainly many cases where bees have been abused. This includes feeding them chemicals or using invasive processes, pesticides and herbicides. This practice was common in the past but has been declining in recent years.
Part of the decline is associated with colony collapse disorder, which is a major issue that has been decimating the populations of bees in the United States and in other parts of the world (46).
The drivers of this problem are still largely unknown, but the management of beehives is thought to play a key role (47).
In many cases, this issue has resulted in a movement towards better approaches for beekeeping and a larger focus on the health of bees.
In general, this means that most of the honey you buy will come from bees that are not mistreated. This is especially true if you choose to buy raw honey as in general raw honey comes from smaller operations that are much more focused on the health of the bees.
Smaller companies also tend to be much more transparent about their honey and the processes that they use to make it. This means that you can normally find information about how bees are treated on the website for the company.
Nevertheless, honey does represent humans taking the hard work of a species of animal. Some people (particularly vegans) may have an issue with this, but most will not. At the end of the day, I have no problem including honey as part of my diet as long as I know it is from a producer that doesn’t exploit their bees.
In fact, one of the best approaches for saving bees and promoting bee health is to support the small companies and producers. These are the ones that focus the most on the health of bees.
What is Colony Collapse?
The issue of colony collapse is a major issue in the production of honey. This is a situation where the worker bees disappear from hives with no clear reason.
It is a process that has occurred many times throughout history, but has become even more significant in recent years.
Around 2006, the issue was named colony collapse disorder and high levels of colony collapse have been observed in many places throughout the world.
The pattern is concerning for honey development and also for crops in general. Honey bees are highly important pollinators and they are responsible for pollinating a large number of different crops.
Because of this, decreases in the number of honey bees through colony collapse could potentially result in increased food prices or even in food shortages.
There have been a range of possible causes discussed and researched, although the exact mechanism behind the issue is still unknown.
One theory is that high levels of stress can contribute to colony collapse (48). This perspective has a lot of merit, because many honey producers have an emphasis on getting as much honey as possible from their bees. Doing so can often come at the cost of the health of the bees.
The development of HMF is also another potential cause. As I mentioned earlier, HMF is toxic to bees and it is prevalent in sugar.
This wouldn’t normally be an issue for bees, but many commercial beehives take all of the honey from the hives and provide bees with a sugar-based artificial supplement to sustain them. This approach can result in bees consuming HMF and may contribute to colony collapse.
Does Honey Spoil?
Even though most honey has best before dates, honey doesn’t really spoil. So, even if you have honey that is far past its best before date it will be safe to eat. Food spoilage is normally the result of bacteria growth.
However, raw honey tends to have a low amount of water and a relatively high acidic level. This combination creates unfavorable conditions for bacterial growth, which helps to keep the honey for extended periods of time.
The best before dates are normally placed because of the requirements of stores and for practical reasons, and they have nothing at all to do with how long the honey is going to last.
Why Does Raw Honey Contain Particles?
Some raw honey will contain particles. This will largely depend on who produced the honey and how fine their straining process was.
However, the presence of particles in honey is not a health issue and these particles may actually contribute to the health benefits of honey. One particle that is sometimes present in honey is pollen.
Typically, this pollen is fine enough that you won’t even notice it and the quantity of pollen tends to be very low anyway.
A second substance that is sometimes present is bee propolis, which is a substance that is collected by bees and used to line the hives. There are some indications that this may have antibiotic properties and its presence certainly won’t harm the health of anyone eating the honey.
Honey has a long history and it is still important in modern times. It is a much healthier option than sugar or artificial sweeteners and is a fantastic way to get some sweetness into your food and improve your health at the same time.
When it comes to honey, everyone has their own favorite varieties and there certainly are a lot of different ones out there to choose from. I recommend taking the time to try out monofloral raw honey varieties and figure out for yourself what tastes you like and what works well with your food.
Trying new varieties of honey can be an interesting and rewarding experience, especially if you are relatively new to raw honey.
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What are your thoughts on honey? Do you like it and do you have a favorite type?