Honey – nature’s liquid gold

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Consider honey not only nature’s liquid gold but also the answer to a natural sweetener all of us can benefit from.  Honey is indeed a very sweet product with some nutritional and natural health benefits.  The composition of honey is primarily composed of the simple sugars glucose and fructose along with water.  The sugar fructose in most honeys tend to dominate making honey slightly sweeter (on average about 1 to 1.5 times sweeter) than regular sugar. 

How is honey made

This all natural food source is only here thanks to honeybees.  Bees start the production of honey when they collect nectar from various flowers.  Carrying the nectar back to their beehive, the 60,000 or so bees within a hive get busy storing it in honeycombs.  Due to the unique design of the honeycomb along with the constant fanning by the bees’ wings causing evaporation, this creates honey to become the thick, sweet liquid we know and recognize. 

There are more than 300 types of honey produced in the United States with each originating from a different floral source which include alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, avocado, wildflowers, and orange blossom.  The color and flavor of honey will vary depending on its floral source.

Thankfully for us, bees are so efficient at making more honey than the colony needs, it is necessary for beekeepers to remove the excess. The average beehive will produce about 80 pounds of surplus honey a year.

Honey’s natural health benefits

·      Natural cough suppressant

For centuries, honey has been used to help reduce symptoms associated with the common cold.  Even today, many people may use honey as a natural way to soothe a sore or scratchy throat or a hacking cough.

A 2007 study by a Penn State College of Medicine research team found that honey may offer a safe and effective alternative for children with a cough to use in place of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines.  The study found that a small dose of buckwheat honey given before bedtime provided better relief of nighttime cough and sleep difficulty in children than dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant found in many OTC cold medicines. 

Honey has well-established antioxidant and antimicrobial effects which could explain its contribution to wound healing and for treating upper respiratory infections symptoms like a cough. Honey is also known to soothe on contact which may explain its effect on coughs. 

Honey is considered safe for children over the age of 12 months but it is not recommended to be fed or given to infants under one year of age.  This is due to the rare possibility of infant botulism, a serious paralytic disease caused by the microorganism Clostridium botulinum.  Honey is a potential source of it – infants are susceptible to infant botulism until their intestinal microflora develops. 

Here is a link to a recipe from the National Honey Board for Honey Citrus Soother.

·      Natural Skin Care

Skin care lines have used honey as a natural moisturizer in everything from lotions, shampoos and conditioners, bar soaps and bubble baths.  Part of what sells honey as a skin care product is its wholesome, all-natural image and the fact more and more consumers are demanding cosmetics and personal care products to be made from natural ingredients. 

Honey is excellent for retaining moisture as it is a humectant so it helps reduce the loss of moisture.  Along with its natural antimicrobial properties, honey makes a great way to preserve and cleanse our skin naturally. 

Here is a link to a recipe from the National Honey Board for Harvest Pumpkin Exfoliating Mask.

·      Natural energy and athletic aid

When we workout or just need energy to get through the day, we need a good source of quick carbohydrates.  Honey provides this as it has about 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon.  This makes it an ideal, natural source of readily available carbohydrates necessary to maintain muscle glycogen, also known as stored carbohydrates.  Glycogen is the most important fuel sources for athletes to help them keep going. 

Before a person performs an athletic activity or event, it is recommended to have a good fuel source for an added energy boost.  Honey can be that source to consume just before an event as it is released into the system at a steady rate throughout the event.  It can also be used during a workout to keep muscles nourished and to delay fatigue.    Post-exercise, research has shown that ingesting a carbohydrate and protein immediately following exercise (within 30 minutes) is ideal to refuel and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness.  Combining honey with a protein source can be a perfect duo.

Honey is also an inexpensive alternative to commercial sports gels. 

Storing honey

The best place to store honey is at room temperature either on the kitchen counter or on a pantry shelf.  If stored in the refrigerator, this will accelerate the honey’s crystallization.  Crystallization is the natural process in which liquid in honey becomes solid.  If honey crystallizes, place the honey jar in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve. 

For more information on honey, cooking tips and recipes, visit the National Honey Board