Week 6: Honey

honey

Honey is the rich, golden liquid that is produced by bees who collect nectar from flowers and mix it with their saliva.  Enzymes in the saliva transform the nectar into honey which is stored in cells in a beehive which typically contains one queen bee and approximately 60,000 drones/workers.  Honey bees will travel up to 3 miles from the hive to collect nectar, and it takes nectar from over 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey.

Honey is used as a food source for bees during the winter months when they are unable to collect nectar and excess honey is collected by beekeepers for human consumption.

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to try beekeeping and set up our first hive. It was an amazing learning experience and produced the sweetest, purest honey we have ever eaten.

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There are over 300 different types of honey in the U.S. It comes in a range of colors including white, amber, red, brown, and Buckwheat honey is almost black. The flavor and texture vary with the type of flower nectar from which it was made. While the most commonly available honeys are made from clover, alfalfa, heather and acacia flowers, honey can be made from almost any flowering plant including thyme and lavender.

Honey is graded based upon a number of factors, including water content, fragrance, flavor, aroma, absence of defects and clarity. It is graded A, B, C, or substandard depending on bubbles, clarity and contamination by pollen grains.

History

There is evidence that people were gathering honey at least 8,000 years ago, as shown in cave drawings in Valencia, Spain.  Archaeologists have found honey remains on the inner surface of clay vessels recovered from an ancient tomb in Georgia, dating back to some 4,700–5,500 years ago. Apiculture, or beekeeping, for the purpose of harvesting honey dates back to 700 BC.

Honey has had many uses over the years from sweetening food and beverages as well as making alcoholic beverages (mead), making cement, and as a medicine. Honey was used for embalming the dead in Ancient Egyptian and in the Middle East. In the 11th century A.D., German peasants even paid their feudal lords in honey and beeswax.  Beeswax is also used today in furniture polishes and varnishes.

Religion

There are references to honey in a number of religions. Honey symbolizes the new year, Rosh Hashanah.  In the Bible, in Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist lived for a long period of time in the wilderness on a diet consisting of locusts and wild honey. In Hinduism, honey, or madhu, is one of the five elixirs of immortality. The Buddhist festival of Madhu Purnima, which is celebrated in India and Bangladesh, honey is given to monks to commemorate Buddha’s retreat into the wilderness where reputedly a was fed honey by a monkey. And, in The Qur’an, honey is promoted as nutritious and healthy. Apparently, the Prophet Muhammad recommended it for its healing properties.

Health Benefits

Honey is the only food product that never spoils, as its high sugar content and acidic pH help to inhibit the growth of microorganisms. Honey reportedly boosts immunity and helps heal wounds as well.  It also contains antioxidants and flavonoids that may function as antibacterial agents. Honey has been used topically as an antiseptic therapeutic agent for the treatment of ulcers, burns and wounds for centuries.  Raw honey contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase that, when combined with water, produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic. Darker honeys, specifically honey from buckwheat flowers, sage and tupelo, contain a greater amount of antioxidants than other honeys, and raw, unprocessed honey contains the widest variety of health-supportive substances.

Phytonutrients are found both in honey and propolis (also referred to as “bee glue” and used by honeybees to seal the hive to keep it save from bacteria.  The bees make propolis by combining plant resins with their own secretions.)  These phytonutrients have been shown to possess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties. Researchers have discovered that these substances prevent colon cancer in animals. These phytonutrients include caffeic acid methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate.

NOTE: Do not feed honey-containing products or use honey as a flavoring for infants under one year of age; honey may contain Clostridium botulinum spores and toxins that can cause infant botulism, a life-threatening paralytic disease.

Culinary Uses

Honey is used as a sweetener in beverages and for cooking and baking. It makes a good replacement for sugar in most recipes, but since honey is sweeter than sugar, you need to use less, one-half to three-quarters of a cup for each cup of sugar. For each cup of sugar replaced, you should also reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by one-quarter of a cup. In addition, reduce the cooking temperature by 25°F since honey causes foods to brown more easily.

Honey is also used to make mead, which is a fermented beverage made from honey and water and sometimes fruit or spices.  Mead contains between 8%-18% alcohol and is the earliest known fermented beverage.

Resources

About.com. Food History

National Honey Board. http://www.honey.com

Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey

http://www.whfoods.com

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