Honey has been making a come back in the last few years. After spending time hiding in the back of the pantry, honey was named the Flavor of the Year for 2015 by Firmenich. I’ve always liked honey, but I really didn’t know too much about it. I used honey in tea and a little bit in cooking, but other than that it was just kind of there. This summer I traveled to South Dakota and Iowa with the sponsor of this post the National Honey Board to find out more about the story of honey.
The first stop on my story of honey tour was a family owned apiary (a bee farm) in South Dakota. I knew we were going to get a tour but I had no idea we were going to suit up in a bee suit and head out to look at hives. This is where the story of honey begins. Bee hives are set up in the middle of fields so the bees can gather nectar from flowers and make honey.
Honey isn’t just honey. In the U.S. there are over 300 different varieties of honey and each one has a unique flavor. The only thing that changes is the type of flower the bees gather nectar from. Most honey in grocery stores in clover honey, but I also tried orange blossom honey and buckwheat honey. Other popular honey varietals are tupelo, lavender, and even avocado. Each honey adds it’s own unique flavor to recipes.
After visiting the apiary and seeing the bees in action, we enjoyed a lunch of honey inspired dishes. Cookbook author Marie Simmons presented information on cooking with honey. I’ve used honey as a sweetener in recipes, but it has so many other uses. Honey holds and attracts moisture and is anti-microbial so it’s a great way to help baked goods stay fresh longer. Adding honey to gluten free baking helps to mask any bitterness. Honey is also a great thickening agent for dressings and sauces and it’s rich brown color helps with browning foods when basting. It’s not just for tea!
I was quite surprised to search my recipes to find I’ve used honey in quite a few recipes like Lavender Honey Ice Cream and Honey Sesame Snack Mix. Honey can easily be substituted for other sweeteners when cooking. Swap up to half the sweetener with honey when making sauces, marinades and salad dressings. For baking, for each cup of honey used, reduce the added liquid by 1/4 cup, add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Try different flavors of honey when cooking, too.
After visiting the bee farm, I was able to visit Sue Bee Honey in Iowa to see what happens to the honey after it is harvested on the farm. I was very surprised to see that honey is very unprocessed. For some reason I thought store bought was heavily processed, but it isn’t at all. The honey is gently warmed so that it’s easy to work with. Then it’s filtered twice to remove anything left in it from the hive like bee parts, wood from the honey frames and anything else that may have gotten in. If you love unfiltered honey, then just be aware to watch for any little bits and pieces left in it.
Once the honey is filtered, it’s bottled up for selling. Who doesn’t love a little honey bear full of liquid gold? Honey is best kept in an air tight container at room temperature. It never goes bad. Ever. Archaeologists found honey in King Tut’s tomb that was still edible. Honey will slowly crystallize over time, though. Just gently reheat it in a pan until the crystals melt back in to the honey.
While honey is mostly used for cooking, it’s also great for a lot of other uses. I had no idea that honey is an all natural energy boost that professional athletes even use during games. Next time you have an afternoon slump, reach for some honey. Honey has become popular with moms as a natural cough suppressant. From personal experience, it’s a lot easier to get kids to take a spoonful of honey than cough syrup. Honey is all also a great natural skin moisturizer. So what are you waiting for? Go find that honey bear shoved in to the back corner of your pantry and set him out on the counter! It’s time add a little more sweetness to your life.
Find out more about honey from the National Honey Board including a locator to find honey local to your area.