‘Tis the month to celebrate all things HONEY! The National Honey Board declared September as National Honey Month in 1989 to promote the beekeeping industry and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener. Honey is a great sweetener for many reasons. However, it is important to note that honey is more than a sweetener and has a long history so let the celebrations begin!
Honey dates back centuries. In 2012, archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest honey in a ceramic jar in Georgia (Eastern European country) which is estimated by scientists to be about 5,500 years old. However, honey was used long before this and may have a life of millions of years. Beekeeping apiculture dates to at least 700 BC. Documentation has been found showing that ancient Egyptians sacrificed honey to their river gods, Roman’s slathered honey on wounds, Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey, and honey was used as a form of currency in Europe. There are also numerous ancient references to mead, or honey wine, which is the world’s oldest known fermented beverage.
Honey, as a sweetener, has many health benefits. Besides being loaded with minerals, vitamins and important enzymes, honey is a natural, healthy energy booster. It is an immune system builder and has both antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Honey has a healthy glycemic index which means that can be absorbed into the bloodstream gradually resulting in better digestion. For more detailed information on the nutritional value of honey over table sugar, see Benefits of Honey by Michigan State University. Honey is denser than sugar. One tablespoon of honey has 69 calories compared to 48 calories in one tablespoon of processed white sugar. When using honey as a sweetener begin substitutions by replacing the amount of sugar called for in the recipe with half the amount of honey. Honey can be substituted in equal measure for other liquid sweeteners such as sorghum, molasses, or maple syrup. Learn more about cooking with honey from All About Honey.
Bee pollen is another important substance found in honey. Bee pollen may provide some relief for those who suffer with seasonal allergies since it contains trace amounts of pollen. Daily trace amounts of pollen may help reduce the symptoms of pollen-related allergies by inoculating the individual. When used as an inoculant, it is very important that the honey be purchased locally since that is where the allergens are located.
While some of the health benefits of honey have been discussed, the many uses of honey is extensive. For more honey uses, take a look at some suggestions for honey outside of the kitchen by Sioux Honey™.
Honey Safety and Storage
The primary food safety issue related to honey is infant botulism. Because infants have an immature digestive tract, the spores of the Clostridium bacteria (the pathogen of botulism) have ample
time and environment to produce toxins which may result in infant botulism. Therefore, babies under the age of 1 should not eat honey.
In general, honey is safe for adults and children older than the age of 1. Mature digestive systems move the toxins through the body before they can cause harm. Those allergic to honey should avoid it.
Honey has a very low water content and high acidity, which usually inhibits the growth of bacteria. However, honey is hydroscopic, which means it draws in moisture. Moisture in honey can create favorable conditions for mold and yeast growth. To prevent such, honey should be stored in a clean, airtight container and preferably away from light. When stored properly, honey will remain safe indefinitely. Honey may crystallize or granulate as it gets older, is refrigerated, or is frozen. This is a natural process and does not harm honey in any way. To convert crystallized honey to a liquid form, place the opened honey jar in a heat-safe container of approximately 1-2 inches of hot (not boiling) water. Crystals will begin to disappear; stir as needed. Be careful not to overheat honey; excessive heat can cause honey to change color and flavor.
According to National Honey Board trivia, a single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey! So celebrate the benefits of honey, the bees that make it, those who work in the honey and bee industry, and enjoy the sweet nectar of their labor!
Infant Botulism. Nemours Kids Health. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/botulism.html Medically reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD, Date reviewed: March 2023.