Honey is one of the foods that I can remember eating when I was very young. I can remember eating comb honey when we lived in New Zealand; I must have been aged about four. Later, when we lived in the middle east, we used to buy honey from the people living in the Alburz mountains; we called in bees-foot honey, as it sometimes contained small fragments of the poor bees that made it. In Nigeria, honey was rare and costly, and sold wrapped in leaves by tribesmen sitting at the edge of the market place.
In all these parts of the world and more, and going back through the millennia, honey has been eaten. There are Mesolithic cave paintings in Spain, showing women collecting honey. It has value as a food, and as a medicine. The ancient Egyptians new of its healing powers and used it to dress wounds, and to embalm the dead. In the bronze-age, in Britain, honeyed breads were made for festivals.
Honey has value as a food, and also has medical uses. These are still being researched, and include measuring the medicinal value of honey to help with oral infections, reducing cough in children, and in the management of chronic wounds and acute burns. The use of some types of honey for wound management is already part of mainstream practice in the UK. There seems to be variation between types of honey when it comes to how well they work; Manuka honey is the most widely know therapeutic honey, made from nectar collected by bees from the Manuka tree in Australia and New Zealand. There seems to be several different ways in which the honey works to treat and prevent infections in wounds.
WHAT IS HONEY?
Honey is made from the nectar of flowers, which collected by honey bees. Bees manufacture honey as a stable, high-energy food for their young. They collect nectar from plants that are in bloom. Flying back to the hive, the bees then transfer the nectar into six-sided wax cells. They then flap their wings to help water to evaporate from the nectar, and condensing it into honey. Once the honey is ready, the bees seal each cell with wax, storing it for when it is to be consumed.
When it comes to harvesting the honey, the beekeeper removes the combs of honey from the hive, cuts off the wax caps and spins the come to get the honey out. The honey is then strained and bottled. Only honeybees make large enough colonies in hives for this to work; bumblebees do not live in large colonies, and honeybees are not native to the islands.
TYPES OF HONEY
The colour and flavour of honeys differ depending on which flowers have been visited by the honey bees. The colour ranges from nearly colourless to dark brown, and the flavour varies from mild to distinctive and bold, depending on where the honey bees buzzed. Honey from different flowers has a distinctive flavour and colour due to differences in the nectar
As a general rule, the flavour of lighter coloured honeys is milder, and the flavour of darker coloured honeys is stronger. Darker honeys have more nutrients than light ones. Vitamin and mineral content also depend on the floral source of the honey. Below is a list of some of the more commonly available types of honey in the UK and in the wholefood catalogue.
Acacia honey: A light mild clear honey produced from Acacia and a blend of other flower nectars.
Chilean ulmo honey: Growing along the coastal areas of southern Chile, ulmo trees produce a white blossom in February and March. This honey has a delightful flavour reminiscent of aniseed and parma violets.
Greek honey: A strong rich dark clear honey produced from pine, wild rose and other flower nectars.
Clover Honey: Usually a pale set honey, it has a smooth texture and a deliciously mild buttery flavour.
Orange blossom honey: This clear honey is collected from hives sited in orange groves. It has a deliciously distinctive orange flavour and a light amber colour.
Turkish pine honey: From the pine forests of western Turkey, south east of Izmir, this dark, clear honey comes from hives managed to organic standards. It has a rich, full-bodied flavour reminiscent of sweet molasses.
Scottish heather honey: This is a dark, set honey, usually gathered from the moorlands around the Grampian mountains during August and September. Heather honey has a distinctive thick consistency with a rich flavour – slightly bitter with a pleasing aftertaste of burnt caramel. Some find it too strong.
COOKING WITH HONEY
There is an art to cooking with honey; as well as being very sweet, some honeys have quite a strong flavour, while others lose their floral taste in the process of cooking. In addition, honey includes water, so adjustments need to be made to recipes when substituting honey for sugar.
There are some combinations that blend well with the texture and flavour of honey; my favourite is Greek yoghurt with honey and nuts. A similar classic combination is icecream and heather honey; the neutral ice cream showcases the strong flavour of heather honey . Another classic combination is pecorino cheese with walnuts and comb honey.
When it comes to baking, most recipes work best with a blended wildflower honey, whose flavour is not too cloying or assertive. If you substitute all the sugar for honey, the texture of the finished cake or biscuit can be a bit chewy. Instead, use a mixture. The suggested substitution method is to use about 1/3 honey, 2/3 sugar. Use an equivalent weight, for example for a recipe asking for 100g sugar, you would substitute 30g of the sugar for 30g of honey.
If you are using a lot of honey, you should also subtract about 100ml of liquid from a recipe for every 250ml honey used and some sources suggest adding 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to a recipe to counteract honey’s acidic nature, which can affect other ingredients.
- Juice of 2 lemons, plus 2 thin slices
- 1cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tsp Honey
- 4 tbsp whisky (optional)
Pour the lemon juice into a measuring jug and add the sliced ginger and honey. Add enough boiling water to the jug to measure 300ml and stir. Pour into 2 heatproof glasses, add the whisky if desired and serve immediately, garnished with a thin slice of lemon.
Banana Honey and Cinnamon Smoothie
- 1 banana
- 150ml semi-skimmed milk
- 150g Natural Yogurt
- 1 tbsp clear honey
- 1 large pinch ground cinnamon
Chop a banana into large chunks and place in a blender. Pour in 150ml semi-skimmed milk and add a 150g pot Natural Yogurt with 1 tsp clear honey and a large pinch of ground cinnamon. Blend until smooth, pour into a glass and serve, sprinkled with a little more ground cinnamon.