Sophie's World Blog

101 Honey

101 Honey

Honey, the world’s oldest sweetener, was the major sweetener until sugar cane was cultivated. In the early days, honey was gathered from the hives of wild bees in rosck crevices and trees. Later, beehives were part of every monastery, castle and farm garden. With honey the principal sweetener until the 19th century, almost every small rural household kept bees. Through the centuries, honey has also been used for medicinal purposes.

Liquid gold from the bees

Honey gets its start as flower nectar, which is collected by bees, naturally broken down into simple sugars and stored in honeycombs. The unique design of the honeycomb, coupled with constant fanning by the bees’ wings, causes evaporation to take place, creating the thick, sweet liquid we know as honey. It is a mixture of sugars; 70% to 80% of honey is largely fructose and sucrose, with some maltose, melezitose and sucrose. The rest is water, minerals and traces of protein, acids, and other substances.

The specific composition of any batch of honey will depend largely on the flowers consumed by the bees that produced the honey. The flavor of honey is affected by its terroir (tur-WAHR), the unique combination of geographic location, climate and microclimate, soil and temperature that gives the flower nectar a complex composition and the honey made from it an individual personality. As in the growing of grapes for wine or beans for coffee, terroir dramatically affects the flavor profiles of the product produced. The flavor and color of honey can differ every year, even from the same location and beekeeper. While the same type of flower from a different region can produce a different region, even locally, as with grapes, a difference in the weather and “blossoming season” will make a difference in the honey.

Beekeepers harvest honey by collecting the honeycomb frames and scraping off the wax cap that bees make to seal off honey in each cell.

Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in an extractor — a centrifuge that spins the frames, forcing honey out of the comb. The honey is spun to the sides of the extractor, where gravity pulls it to the bottom and it can be collected.

After the honey is extracted, it is strained to remove any remaining pieces of wax or other particles. Some beekeepers and bottlers might heat the honey to make it easier to strain, but this does nothing to alter the liquid’s natural composition. It only makes the straining process easier and more effective.

After straining, it’s time to bottle, label and distribute the honey to retail outlets. Whether the container is glass or plastic, or purchased at the grocery store or farmers market, if the ingredient label says pure honey, you can rest assured that nothing was added, from bee to hive to bottle.

How to store honey?

Honey keeps best when stored in a thightly covered container in a warm, dry place. It also can be kept in a freezer. Honey should not be stored in a refrigerator, sincs it absorbs moisture and becomes very thick when cold.

Crystallized or granulated refers to the transformation of the liquid honey unto hard crystals. This happens in varieties of honey that have a higher proportion of glucose to fructose (this is referred to by some people as “hardening”. Crystallized honey can be reliquified by applying heat (30 seconds in a microwave or 10 to 15 minutes in a pan of hot water). Some varietals, like raspberry honey, have such glucose content that they crystallize immediately upon removal from the comb. Such honeys can only be offered in cremed form, a finely crystallized, spreadable state. (In other varietals, crystallization can be deliberately induced to make the cremed form.) Controlled crystallization results in a product with a smooth, spreadable consistency; spontaneous crystallization results in a coarse and grainy product.

Supermarket honeys tend to be blends of cheap honey from all over the world, pasteurized to achieve a “typical” consistency and shelf life. Artisan honey is a much finer product, made by beekeepers who harvest it, using traditional, labor-intensive methods that preserve the integrity of the honey.


Because of the natural presence of botulinum endospores in honey, children under one year of age should not be given honey. The more-developed digestive system of older children and adults generally destroys the spores. Infants, however, can contract botulism from honey. Medical grade honey can be treated with gamma radiation to reduce the risk of botulinum spores being present. Gamma radiation evidently does not affect honey's antibacterial activity, whether or not the particular honey's antibacterial activity is dependent upon peroxide generation.

Infantile botulism shows geographical variation. While the risk honey poses to infant health is small, it is recommended not to take the risk.


Although it is not very common, a honey allergy is something that can be experienced by different individuals. This allergy is not actual an allergy to the honey, but it is a root cause of individuals who are allergic to pollen, bee stings, and other components that go in to the making of the honey that they consume. Due to the fact that honey is a byproduct of bees and pollen, those who suffer from those allergies, might be more susceptible to a honey allergy.

An allergic reaction to honey can vary from mild to potentially life threatening, depending on the severity of the allergy. Some of the most common signs of a honey allergy include respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing, along with itchy, watery eyes or a runny nose. Skin conditions, such as eczema, or gastrointestinal disturbances, such as vomiting or diarrhea, may sometimes occur. Swelling of the face, lips, or throat may indicate a severe type of allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis and constitutes a medical emergency.

Anaphylaxis may occur during a severe allergic reaction to honey. This can become fatal within a matter of minutes if emergency medical attention is not obtained. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include swelling of the face, lips, or tongue, and the development of a rash that may or may not itch. Breathing may become difficult, sometimes causing the patient to lose consciousness. If anaphylaxis is suspected, emergency medical professionals should be contacted immediately, as attempting to transport the patient to the hospital via traditional means may not be fast enough.

An allergic reaction to honey varies in severity and symptoms, depending on the individual and type of honey. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune mechanism is triggered to recognize the innocuous allergen as harmful and reacts to protect the body against it. An allergic reaction to honey can be initiated by eating it or even skin contact with it in some cases.

Preventing the Honey Allergy

The most obvious and common prevention is avoiding honey; as it is not a commonly used ingredient, it is simple to avoid it in most foods or beverages you consume. Diphenhydramine is a medication that certain individuals will take prior to consuming hone, in order to help avoid the allergies, and to help stave off the reactions in the event that they do have a food allergy, and consume foods that might contain traces of honey in it.


Taking antihistamines directly following consumption of honey is one of the easiest and best treatment methods (benadryl). In most instances, this should treat the symptoms that you experience, and as most of them are generally mild, you will not require medical attention for this allergy. However, if the symptoms persist for one hour or longer, after taking the antihistamines, it is advisable to seek medical attention for the allergy, and the persistent symptoms that you are experiencing.


Toxic honey may also result when bees are proximate to tutu bushes (Coriaria arborea) and the vine hopper insect (Scolypopa australis). Both are found throughout New Zealand. Bees gather honeydew produced by the vine hopper insects feeding on the tutu plant. This introduces the poison tutin into honey. Only a few areas in New Zealand frequently produce toxic honey. Symptoms of tutin poisoning include vomiting, delirium, giddiness, increased excitability, stupor, coma, and violent convulsions. To reduce the risk of tutin poisoning, humans should not eat honey taken from feral hives in the risk areas of New Zealand. Since December 2001, New Zealand beekeepers have been required to reduce the risk of producing toxic honey by closely monitoring tutu, vine hopper, and foraging conditions within 3 kilometres of their apiary

Honey produced from flowers of oleanders, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, sheep laurel, and azaleas may cause honey intoxication. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea, and vomiting. Less commonly, low blood pressure, shock, heart rhythm irregularities, and convulsions may occur, with rare cases resulting in death. Honey intoxication is more likely when using "natural" unprocessed honey and honey from farmers who may have a small number of hives. Commercial processing, with pooling of honey from numerous sources, is thought to dilute any toxins.

Types od honey based of processing, teqniques

  • Blended honey is a combination of honey from different floral sources—e.g. alfalfa, wildflowers, clover. Blending is done with the more commonly available and less distinctly flavored honeys to create a common denominator flavor profile for mass-merchandising. The result tends to be “sweet” and “honey” without any other flavor characteristic. The opposite of blended honey is varietal honey.
  • Raw honey is unprocessed. It is honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat (pasteurization). Raw honey contains some pollen and may contain small particles of wax. Raw honey comes out of the comb and go into the bottle: it is one of the purest foods on the table.
  • Strained honey or filtered honey has been passed through a mesh filter to remove particles (pieces of wax, e.g.) without removing pollen. It has a cloudy appearance due to the included pollen, and tends to crystallize more quickly than ultrafiltered honey. Popular with health food buyers.
  • Ultrafiltered honey is processed by very fine filtration under high pressure to remove all extraneous solids and pollen grains. Ultrafiltered honey is very clear and has a longer shelf life, because it crystallizes more slowly. Preferred by the supermarket trade.
  • Pasteurized honey. Supermarket honey is often pasteurized to help prevent crystallization on the shelf.
  • Varietal or monofloral honey comes from a single flower, e.g. orange blossom, lavender, sage. In addition to the flavor of the honey, it will express secondary flavor characteristics of the lavender, sage, raspberry, et al, and the better honeys will have complex tertiary flavors as well.

Forms of honey

  • Comb honey is honey that is sold as it was produced—in the honey bees’ wax comb. The comb is edible as well.
  • Cut comb honey or chunk honey is liquid honey that has added chunks of the honey comb in the jar. Also known as liquid-cut comb combination.
  • Liquid honey, the form most familiar to us, is free of visible crystals. It is extracted from the honey comb by centrifugal force, gravity or straining. Because liquid honey mixes easily into a variety of foods, it is especially convenient for cooking and baking. Most of the honey produced in the United States is sold in the liquid form.
  • Naturally crystallized honey is honey in which part of the natural glucose content has spontaneously crystallized.
  • Whipped or cremed honey (also known as churned honey, honey fondant, sugared honey and spun honey) is brought to market in a finely crystallized state. While all honey will crystallize in time, whipped honey is intentionally crystallize via a controlled process so that, at room temperature, the honey can be spread like butter. In many countries around the world, whipped honey is preferred to the liquid form and used instead of jelly or jam.

Special honey products

  • Flavored/fruited honey has either fruit, coloring or flavoring added.
  • Infused honey has had flavors of herbs, spices, peels, etc. added to it by steeping.
  • Dried honey has been dehydrated and mixed with other ingredients to keep it free-flowing.
  • Honey sticks are liquid honey in plastic straws, generally holding a teaspoon of honey. They can have added flavorings. The honey is sipped from the straw like candy; or the contents can be emptied into a beverage.

Specially certified honey

  • Kosher honey is honey that is produced, processed and packaged in accordance with Jewish dietary regulations and certified by a kosher-certifying organization.
  • Organic honey is produced, processed and packaged in accordance with USDA regulations on organic products and certified by a USDA-certified agency or organization. It should bear a USDA-certified organic seal.

Honey nutrition facts

Honey is a source of carbohydrates, containing

  • 80% natural sugar, mostly fructose and glucose. Due to the high level of fructose, honey is sweeter than table sugar.
  • 18% water. The less water content the honey has, the better the quality of honey.
  • 2% minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein.

Vitamins in honey: B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and certain amino acids.

Minerals in honey: calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.

Free of fat and cholesterol, but contains antioxidants!

What makes honey magic?

The antibacterial action of honey is thought to be from hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). A powerful antimicrobial, H2O2 can kill nearly all germs, as well as some cancer cells, on contact. When honey comes in contact with a wound, an enzyme called glucose oxidase—a gift from the bees—activates the release of H2O2. There are likely undiscovered interactions that occur when honey is used to treat wounds, but from what we know, medicinal honey can even kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA.

Honey is hydroscopic. It pulls water away from an infected wound by osmosis. Dryer wounds heal faster. But there’s more to it: honey also pulls lymph fluid to the wound, making for a balanced healing environment. It also has a low pH of between 3 and 4, making it acidic. Bacteria thrive in neutral or slightly alkaline environments. If you have a non-healing wound, try honey. It’s a “good” acid.

In addition, honey contains phytochemicals important for health. Carotenoids, phytosterols, phenolics, peptides, and other plant chemicals are found in honey. All of these are important for human health and many have healing properties. Many also signal the body’s immune cells to release active immune regulating substances called cytokines. Certain cytokines have anti-inflammatory activity.

Some wild honeys have been tested for anti-tumor activity. Honey can also induce detoxification enzymes that protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Many honey phytochemicals exert a synergistic antioxidant effect.

Calories and honey

Nutrition facts for 1 cup honey:

  • Calories: 1031 (1 tablespoon is 64 cal)
  • Total Carbonhydrate: 279 g (1 tablespoon is 17 g)
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Sugars: 278 g (1 tablespoon is 16 g)
  • Honey has a healthy Glycemic Index (GI), meaning that its sugars can be gradually absorbed into the bloodstream to result in better digestion. We should try to avoid eating excessive high-glycemic foods which would prompt an elevated insulin release in our body as a result of the pancreas being stimulated to metabolize the sudden surge of glucose into the blood.

Minerals in 1 cup honey:

  • Calcium 20,3 mg
  • Iron 1,4 mg
  • Magnesium 6,8 mg
  • Phosphorus 13,6 mg
  • Potassium 176 mg
  • Sodium 13, 6 mg
  • Zinc 0,7 mg
  • Copper 0,1 mg
  • Manganese 0,3 mg
  • Selenium 2,7 mcg
  • Fluoride 23,7 mcg

Can Diabetics Eat Honey?

Honey is a "no-no" for diabetics if you ask the doctor. Honey is a healthier choice in the diabetic diet than any other non-nutritive sweeteners.


Copyright: Zsófia Michelin-Corporatum Oy, Content pictures copyrigh: Shutterstock, Development: e-Com