Sunday, April 26, 2009

Apple #382: Honey

Honey has come up in conversation a couple of times in the past few days. So it's time to learn a few things about honey, methinks. It's pretty miraculous stuff.

(Photo of honey from Bitterroot Restoration)

  • To make one pound of honey, bees may visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar.
  • A worker bee may visit 50 to 100 flowers before going back to the hive to unload the pollen.
  • One worker bee produces 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime. She only lives for 36 days, but still.
  • Honey can vary quite a lot in terms of its color, flavor, and sugar & water content, depending on what flowers the bees visited to make it. In the United States alone, there are over 300 different varieties of honey that are produced and sold on a regular basis.
  • Lighter colored honeys are generally milder, while darker honeys are more robust in flavor. Darker honeys also contain more antioxidants.

Bud Ashurst's honeys, showing how different varieties vary in color. Left to right are alfalfa, clover, orange, and sage. He sells each 12 oz. bear for $15.

  • Fireweed honey has a citrus flavor. Tulip poplar honey is fruity. Tupelo honey is spicy.
  • Even though honey isn't entirely sugar, depending on the variety, it can be up to 1.5 times sweeter than granulated sugar.


  • Honey is made of
  1. Glucose (sugar)
  2. Fructose (sugar)
  3. Water
  4. Sucrose, maltose, kojibiose, turanose, isomaltose, maltulose (more sugars)
  5. Oligosaccharides (carbohydrates)
  • Nutritionally speaking, there are also essential proteins and amino acids in honey, as well as antioxidants, a few vitamins and minerals, and enzymes that help to break down the sugars.
  • Because liquid honey is only 20% water, it is supersaturated. The stuff it is supersaturated with is sugar (70%).
  • Because of all that sugar, honey will eventually crystallize.
  • If stored at room temperature, crystallization may happen in months or even weeks. If your honey has crystallized, you can re-liquify it by warming it gently to about 140 degrees.
  • Careful not to heat it up too much, though, because if it gets too warm, the honey will break down, and it can ferment or even begin to grow bacteria.
  • You can keep honey from crystallizing in the first place by storing it at temperatures cooler than room temps or by keeping it in air-tight containers.

Leslie, pouring honey she and fellow beekeeper Bill have collected from their hives.
(Photo from the Green Grower. The rest of this page has a lot of photos about beekeeping and making honey.)

  • A lot of people like to say, "They found honey in the pyramids and it was still good! That's how you know it never goes bad!" Except nobody says in which tombs or who found it, or when. Which makes me wonder if this information may have gone bad as it's been passed all around. Because, as we have just learned, honey can actually go bad, if it's not stored properly.
  • In one particular pyramid, the honey that was found had been stored in a corked container -- the archaeologists opened the vessels, so who knows if the honey is any good now -- and they described it as "almost liquid," and that it has "preserved its scent." No idea whether they tasted it or not.


These dark honey cookies are made with honey and sugar. Available from Madeira Shopping for €4,20 per bag.

  • If you want to use honey instead of granulated sugar, here's how:
  • If the recipe calls for one cup or less than a cup of sugar, you can use equal amounts honey as sugar. If it needs more than a cup of sugar, substitute 3/4 cup honey for each cup of sugar.
  • Also reduce another liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup
  • Also add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to neutralized the acid in the honey
  • Also reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to keep the your goodies from browning too quickly.

  • Honey may also contain the spores of a toxic microorganism, Clostridium botulinum. You may know it by its more common name, botulism. This microorganism shows up in dirt and "raw agricultural products" (I'm pretty sure that means poo), and the wind can blow that around and it could get on flowers that the bees then pollinate. So it's possible that the bees' honey contains some of that botulinum.

Clostridium botulinum. The stuff that, in large doses, gives you botulism. The same stuff that people get injected into their skin.
(Image from Softpedia)

  • Adults have enough bacteria-fighting stuff in their intestines, they're not bothered by it. Infants, however, don't have the "microflora" in their intestinal systems yet, so they can be very susceptible to the bad old Clostridium botulinum. So honey producers and doctors alike recommend not feeding honey to infants until they are one year old.
  • Infant botulism is extremely rare. But if it strikes, it's really bad. First the babies cry more weakly usual, they get constipated, they'll be very feeble about eating, and they'll get an all over muscular weakness.
  • If it's not caught in time, the baby can become paralyzed. So if you see this happening in your baby and you think he or she might have eaten honey, take that baby to the doctor immediately.

  • C botulinum may be one of the few microorganisms that honey is powerless against. Because honey contains all sorts of antimicrobial properties that kill off other microorganisms.
  • In fact, Roman soldiers used to put honey on their wounds to help them heal. People have also used it for centuries to treat burns and ulcers.
  • The reason honey works to heal wounds is that it sucks up water. When put on a wound, the honey will draw the water out. When the wound is dried up, the bacteria and yucky stuff can't thrive in the wound.
  • Additionally, when combined with water, an enzyme in honey called glucose oxidase forms hydrogen peroxide, which is a mild antiseptic that keeps wounds clean.
  • Even the antioxidants in honey have antibacterial properties. They have been found to be effective at keeping away such nasties as E coli and Candida.
  • Some doctors say you could apply regular old supermarket honey to a minor cut or burn and expect to have results similar to or perhaps better than an antibiotic. Some varieties of honey are better at wound healing than others -- one variety from New Zealand called Manuka is supposedly the best of all -- so you might get better results from the darker varieties.

One company is making a wound treatment product (bandage) called Medihoney that uses "medical-grade" honey along with some other ingredients that form it into a gel that stays in place. So far, their clinical trials have yielded promising results.

I had a photo up here of the bandage, but it's kind of unpalatable because there's also a rather large wound in the picture. But if you're interested, you can click to see honey bandage at Apitherapy News.

  • Research has also shown that a teaspoon of honey can help relieve a cough. In one study, coughing children between the ages of 2 and 18 who were given honey saw significantly better improvement over those given a store-bought cough suppressant.

  • The fact that honey attracts and retains moisture (the word for that is humectant) has made also made it a very popular cosmetic ingredient for centuries.
  • Cleopatra used to take honey and milk baths to keep her skin soft.

See? Look how smooth Cleopatra's skin is!
(Photo from Suzanne Cross' hard-to-read site, Princeps)

  • The last mistress of King Louis XV, Madame du Barry, used to put honey on her face in a mask and then she'd lie down for a while as it moisturized her skin.
  • Queen Anne of England and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, used concoctions that included honey on their hair to keep it sleek and shiny.
  • I used to have some stuff to put in the bath that had honey in it, and it did make my skin feel very soft afterwards.
  • So the next time you're looking to entice Mark Antony, maybe try a honey & milk bath first.

  • Comb honey -- this is the comb and honey together, both of which are edible

Comb honey photo from The National Honey Board, who can help you find people who sell comb honey in your area.

  • Cut comb -- most of what's in the jar is honey, but there are also chunks of comb as well
  • Liquid honey -- what we typically buy at the store
  • Crystallized honey -- liquid honey that's been allowed to crystallize over time
  • Creamed honey -- a.k.a. whipped honey, this honey has been crystallized but in a controlled way so that the crystallized honey can be whipped into a spreadable form, like butter.

Creamed honey, from the Honeybee Centre in Canada. They sell their creamed honey for $3.99 CAD for a 250 gram jar. They can only sell to customers in Canada at the moment.
(Photo from the Honeybee Centre)

National Honey Board, Honey: A Reference Guide to Nature's Sweetener, Infant Botulism Fact Sheet, Beauty and Honey, Honey Trivia
The World's Healthiest Foods, Honey
Hsiao-Ching Chou, "On Food: How sweet it is: The secret life of honey," Seattlepi, September 3, 2003
Health Benefits of Honey, Honey and Death
Adam Voiland, "The Healing Power of Honey," US News & World Report, October 7, 2008
Charles Downey, "Doctors turning sweet on healing with honey,", March 8, 2000
Carolina Country, Carolina Honey, Which kind of honey tastes best?
Mark Andrews, "The Private Tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu in the Valley of the Kings," Tour Egypt
eHow, How to Substitute Honey For Sugar in a Recipe
The Cook's Thesaurus, Sugars


  1. Great post! Answered a lot of my questions about honey and now I need to go get some!

  2. Thanks, Pam.

    Of course I'm curious, what questions do you have about honey that I did not answer?

    (I decided that getting into things like how bees collect the honey and pollinate and so forth is complex and detailed enough, it would be better as a separate topic.)

  3. By the first time I buy creamed honey, it changed my habit of eating bread as I encountered the deliciousness of creamed honey on toast.

    If I remembered it correctly, there are a multitude of variants of honey in bear bottle in grocery stores. Back then and until now, I don't know what is the connection between honey and bears, but I always hypothesized it was being connected with Winnie the Pooh. I hope somebody would tell me the reason someday.


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