Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer Treat: Honey!

Honey often ends up on dieting "banned" lists. Is honey an evil sugar as so many in the diet industry would have us believe? Vegans do not eat honey, others say it's just nasty "bee puke." Some would even want you to believe that honey is actually worse than pure, white table sugar!

Refined table sugar (sucrose) is processed in our bodies by insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Honey is about 55 per cent fructose, a fruit sugar that's processed by the liver. Despite the chemical difference, our bodies still react to honey in much same way as it reacts to refined sugar - with a blood-sugar spike.

Humans crave sweetness. Processed sugars and artificial sweeteners were developed to get more sweetness into packaged foods, making it easier to get a "sugar fix." In nature, most sweet plants are very healthy for us...berries, fruit, leaves, tubers, etc. Some would say this indicates the plant wants to be eaten, to help spread it's seeds. Milk is sweet, babies like milk. Kids like sweet things, and we never really grow out of it. So, maybe it's best to give in to your sweet tooth, and eat sugar as nature intended.

Big (Really good honey resource!)
The Best Honey

Unfortunately, all honey is not created equal. The stuff you see in the supermarket has generally been ultra-filtered to remove any impurities, this also removes the things that makes honey, honey. Additionally, it's been said that some honey suppliers dilute their honey with sugar water to increase the volume and profitability. Most supermarket honey is OK, but this summer, let's try something else.

The best honey is raw and unfiltered, and comes from beehives located close to where you live. Remember, the sweetness just makes us want to eat honey, but when you look past the sweetness, you'll find an amazing array of nutritional goodness in honey. Sourcing local honey gives us a taste of what the bees find on the flowers and plants near where we live. A health-property of honey has long been noted as the presentation of pollen to our immune system. While Australian Manuka Honey might be a superfood, it's a pretty foreign substance to someone from Napoleon, Ohio.

Try this: Visit a farmer's market in your area and talk to the people selling honey.  Find some that's raw and unfiltered, even better, some that still has chunks of honeycomb in it. The waxy comb is edible, you can put it in hot food like oatmeal, or spread it on melts right in.  Or do like me, just chew on it like gum. I like a spoonful of honey in my coffee, or right off the spoon. If you've never had real honey, you're in for a treat. Go find some!

What's in Honey?

Ever wondered what's actually in honey?  All you need to know is: Nectar, pollen, bee spit, and germs. But if you crave even more information, there is luckily a brand new paper: Molecular Pharmacology of Honey.pdf (2016).  Maybe some music will make it easier to read?

Save or print the pdf if you want a reference guide to the nutrition of honey, but one thing that caught my eye was a reference to oligosaccharides (what we around here call "fiber"). The fiber content of honey should be listed around 1.5%, but everywhere I look, I see "zero fiber." Upon examination, the reason for this is that a "serving" of honey is always listed in spoons or grams, making the fiber less than 1g and not reported.  Some on-line calculators will show 2g of fiber when the serving size is changed to 1kg.

From the paper linked above, a table showing the sugars and other constituents of honey:

 As you can see, mostly sugars in the form of the various saccharides. As you look through the table, you see many familiar names like fructose, glucose. Nearly all of the trace minerals and sugars, etc. can be processed in a lab and added to food to make them "healthier." In reality, it's these natural blends in real food that hold magic. See the polyphenol and flavonoids? Those will become important in a future blog!

"Microscopic Particles"

The last item on the list has also not escaped our attention! The "dust and germs" are perhaps the best feature of honey, and why it's important to get raw and unfiltered, local honey.

An important aspect of honey is that it is antimicrobial, killing bacteria and yeast. Honey has long been used for dressing wounds and treating infections. Yet this natural antibiotic is also shown to stimulate the production of friendly gut bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacteria...the probiotics.

It's quite natural that we are constantly bombarded by wild strains of bacteria and yeast as we go about our day. Our body is used to this, and defends well against any that might be harmful. Honey "works" on many levels, as you can tell, but the fact that honey boosts our immune system should not go unnoticed, Honey and Cancer: Sustainable Inverse Relationship Particularly for Developing Nations—A Review.

There is now a sizeable evidence that honey is a natural immune booster, natural anti-inflammatory agent, natural antimicrobial agent, natural cancer “vaccine,” and natural promoter for healing chronic ulcers and wounds. Though honey has substances of which the most predominant is a mixture of sugars, which itself is thought to be carcinogenic, it is understandable that its beneficial effect as anticancer agent raises skeptics.

Really, read the paper linked above!  You'll want to go out and buy gallons of honey. It was great that the authors started right out with the "...thought to be carcinogenic" aspect of "sugar." And they are right. More than one nutritional scholar has placed honey alongside table sugar on lists of foods that will kill you.   Yet:

Honey has the element of a “natural cancer vaccine” as it can reduce chronic inflammatory processes, improve immune status, reduce infections by hardy organisms and so forth. 


But it's still mostly sugar, and used to sweeten foods. How much is too much?

There are 64 calories in 1TBS (21g) of honey. Try eating a TBS of honey, right off the spoon. That's a lot! Most people don't measure honey when they squirt it onto their toast or in their tea, but a TBS is a good sized serving. The great thing about honey, you can eat it straight, or use it to make a non-sweet food sweet, like drizzling on bread, salad, or meat.

I have access to nearly unlimited honey, produced by beehives in my own backyard. When I first started collecting honey, I put it in everything. But soon just started using it sparingly. We go through maybe a small jar a month. Going days between without eating any honey. If you count calories, substitute honey for something else, it's probably the worst food to exclude from a diet.



The best advice I can give is to simply start incorporating honey into your life. Find a good source and buy it when you can, or go full-in and raise your own bees. Honey is good food. Let's start treating it that way!

Oh, some old Veggie Pharm blog posts about honey here:

What's all the Buzz?

Bees and Barack Obama

Let's Talk Honey, Honey (a must-click!) (Great comments!)



  1. Tim, this is a nice post! I too have come view (local) raw and unfiltered honey as a great food. I've finished about 6 jars this summer, more than I had over a few previous years.

    I've been making some fantastic desserts with it. One I've made several times is an almond meal crust sweetened with maple syrup (I have more luck cooking with maple syrup than honey). I then mix honey, unsweetened full fat yogurt, and (grass-fed) cream cheese, and spread this over the crust. I then put strawberries, blueberries, peaches, what have you from the farmers markets.

    I've also made homemade Nutella using honey as a sweetener.

    In terms of nutrition, I believe it's impossible to compare to refined stuff. When one uses real ingredients like honey, the desserts become more satiating, more filling, and more enjoyable. We have found - and friends of ours agree - that one simply gets a full feeling that doesn't happen with desserts made with processed ingredients. Premade desserts at stores taste and feel artificial after a while of doing this.

    Since it's getting to be peach and apple season, try using honey to macerate them. Mmmmmm...

  2. Nice post, Tim. Thanks!


  3. There was some fantastic research done by the late Seth Roberts about regularly consuming raw honey before bedtime. Google it if interested.

  4. Local, unfiltered honey is the best! I get Blackberry honey from a local farmer...but our stores also carry a semi-local raw Buckwheat honey...dark, not quite as sweet but incredible stuff. Great on buckwheat pancakes...a match made in heaven. :)

  5. I happen to be making some granola-type bars today and was investigating my choices in sweetener. One thing that caught my eye on a bottle of corn syrup (Karo Light) I happen to have is that the sugars content is listed as 10g however the total carbohydrate content says 30g. I thought corn syrup was supposed to be almost 100% glucose; but since corn syrup is hydrolyzed from starch does that mean that the different 20g is various oligosaccharides in some form?

    1. 10g sugar, 20g corn starch. regular corn starch is highly digestible, so not even RS, as far as I can tell. Good thought, though!

  6. Really enjoyed the table reprint with the teeny, tiny nutrients that never get mentioned in common, every-day life. That's neat that you do bees/honey.

  7. Slightly more unusual use of honey here, but thought I would pass it on. Had a bit of folliculitis in my nose. Didn't want to use topical antibiotics like neosporin and didn't feel like going to the doctor just for a rudolf schnozz. So I started applying manuka honey inside my nostril with a q-tip. Started clearing up the next day and have seen steady improvement since. I think about a week should see it completely gone.

    1. Haha, picturing Scar-face snorting honey while throwing bees..."say hello to my little friends!"

  8. Tim, have you heard of honeydew honey, aka forest honey? which is different than the honey we usually think of - and it supposedly has more prebiotics?

    "Honeydew honey is a sugary liquid secreted by insects such as aphids while sucking the plant sap. This sugary liquid is collected by honeybees and converted in to strong dark colored honeydew honey. It is also known as Pine honey, Fir honey or Forest honey. Few varieties are named after the plant source from which the bees collect the honeydew . Composition, properties and benefits of honeydew honey are different compared to honey derived from nectar of flowers.

    How it is known in different nations?

    It is known with different names in different nations. French: Le miel de forêt or Les miellats, Turkish: Salgı balı, German: Waldhonig or Honigtau Honig; Slovenian: Gozdni med or med iz mane Italian: Miele di bosco or Miele di melata; Spain: Miel de mielada or Miel Forestal.

    Properties of honeydew / Forest honey

    Does not crystallize at all due to lower glucose content.
    Contains high concentration of minerals, a characteristic feature for honeydews.
    Possess strong flavor with a woody taste and leaves an aftertaste.
    Dark color with slight green fluorescence.
    Very less aroma.
    Highly viscous solution that is sticky to touch .
    Difference between nectar honey and honeydew honey

    There are several differences between nectar honey (which is based on flowers) and honeydew honey. Some key differences are provided below:

    Composition: Honeydew variety contains high amount of minerals, complex sugars such as raffinose and melezitose and amino acids.
    Taste and color: It is dark in color and less sweet compared to the blossom honey.
    Crystallization: Presence of complex sugars prevents it from crystallization. The high fructose to glucose ratio and less amount of water prevent it from crystallization.
    Benefits of honeydew / forest honey

    Like nectar honey, honeydew also offers a wide variety of benefits.

    Serves as prebiotics: Oligosaccharides present in honeydew serve as prebiotics promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria present in the gut. It is very helpful if consumed after taking antibiotics that are generally used to treat bacterial infections. By improving the gut flora it even helps to increase appetite"

    1. Yes! I have heard of it. I'm not even sure most beekeepers know what honeydew honey is. I would not recognize it in my own hives, I don't think. It does not seem a very popular supermarket honey, "Now made with extra aphid poop!"

      But, yeah, probably some of the best honey there is. I like having my own bees and hope they are bringing in honeydew right now.

      I just looked on Amazon, several people selling honeydew honey, reasonably priced, ie.

  9. The magic combo of raw good honey, chopped raw garlic, and a sprinkle or two or three of cayenne powder HEALS ILLNESSES. I got a terrible case of strep throat that had me go to sleep well and wake up very sick with high fever, throat pain, delirium. I rushed right to urgent care, tested + For strep, and agreed for once to go on an antibiotic. After the round was done, I was sick with strep again within a week, plus all the sequelae of antibiotics. Doc gave me a different antibiotic. When that round was done I really had all the sequelae of my good bacteria destroyed, and the strep came right back. Done with commercial med, I turned to natural, the concoction above.

    A half teaspoon of it every time I thought about it, two weeks time until slight sore throat stopped occurring. Then a couple 1/2 tsps a day for a while, then I was fine. Never had strep again. It's been a couple months. I believe in honey!

  10. I remember reading somewhere that the honeydew/forest honey is healthier somehow (not sure about this claim myself) since it has fewer digestible carbs = fewer calories.


    Has anyone here made this before? I just started a batch today and am looking forward to it in a month!