Honey has long been used as a natural, unrefined sweetener. However, it’s popularity has recently been taken down a notch or two because agave has come on the scene. Unfortunately agave’s benefits are now being repealed because, like tequila (also made from the agave plant), it takes quite a bit of refining to get agave syrup from the actual agave plant. Being ranked just under high fructose corn syrup in terms of the actual amount of refining that agave has to go through to turn into syrup isn’t helping agave’s reputation one bit.
Whether Paleo, Primal, WAPF, or find that you are just plain-old reactive to common, everyday white sugar, more and more people are ditching refined sweeteners for more natural choices. This generally includes maple syrup, stevia, coconut and palm sugar, and honey.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at honey. Why it’s a healthy choice (as far as sweetener’s go anyway), how to bake with it, and everyday meal-time applications where you can truly enjoy it’s abundance of natural, and distinctive flavors.
Why is Honey Considered a Healthy Choice?
Raw honey is noteworthy for having considerable plant amylase (enzymes that digest carbohydrates). The amylase does not come from the bee but is a true plant enzyme, concentrated from the pollen of flowers. ….If you wish to predigest a starchy food, such as bread, spread some raw honey on it. The moment the honey and bread come into contact, the honey enzyme starts predigestion; and as you chew more digestion takes place. If the bread with its honey-enzyme coating is allowed to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before you eat it, there will be less work for salivary amylase.
Edward Howell, MD Enzyme Nutrition
As quoted in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Although honey is a healthy alternative to many sweeteners out there (both “real” and “fake”), it can still raise insulin levels when eaten in abundance. So make sure to have some honey with your bread, not some bread with your honey.
Baking with Honey
Honey is not a 1:1 substitute for regular white sugar. It is much heavier, sweeter, and depending on the application, can impart its own distinct flavor. Generally, when a recipe for a baked item (such as a cake) calls for honey you’ll notice that it also calls for more eggs than you might find in a traditional recipe (that calls for white sugar). This is because honey is heavier than white sugar. If you want a light and fluffy cake, you’ll likely not find honey in the ingredient list. This doesn’t mean that baked items that use honey are not just as good as those that use white sugar, they are just composed of different ingredients, which impart different results.
WholeNewMom has some recommendations regarding how to substitute a liquid for a granulated sweetener and the converse. Here is a quick and dirty explanation and example. For her full article and printable chart click here
If you would like to substitute a liquid sweetener for a different liquid sweetener then you can simply swap at a 1:1 ratio. For example, if your recipe called for 1/4 cup maple syrup, you could substitute 1/4 cup honey.
When substituting a liquid for a granulated sweetener, or vice versa, the key is to pay attention to how much liquid you are either adding or subtracting from the overall amount called for in the recipe.
The type of sweetener you are subbing out matters too, as a sweetener like honey or maple syrup is sweeter than conventional white sugar. Generally, you’ll want to decrease the amount of honey you use if you are substituting it for granulated sugar by one-quarter to one-half the amount.
When substituting a liquid for a granulated sweetener (i.e. honey for white sugar) you’ll need to subtract 1/4 cup of liquid for every 1 cup of honey from the recipe.
Because both maple syrup and honey are more acidic than conventional sugar you’ll need to add an additional 1/4-1/2 teaspoon baking soda per cup of honey/maple syrup. This will allow the batter to rise.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Recipe A calls for
1 cup milk, 1.5 cup white sugar, and 1 teaspoon baking soda
You’ll use 3/4 cup milk, 1 cup honey, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda. Thus equaling out the liquid by giving 1/4 of the responsibility to the honey. You’ll also be decreasing the amount of actual sweetener added because of the extra sweetness that the honey imparts. Finally, the extra half teaspoon of baking soda will allow the baked good to rise properly.
A Word of Caution
Let me just caveat that explanation by saying that I personally am NOT a big fan of changing my old tried-and-true recipes from a granulated sweetener to a liquid sweetener. Although it can be done, as I stated above, things like weight, humidity, and acidicy cause ingredients like honey to act differently depending on the other ingredients involved. Therefore, if you change Grandma’s Chocolate Chip cookies from white sugar to honey, even if you keep every other ingredient the same, and just add a bit more flour, you’ll still come up with a completely different cookie than what Grandma used to make. Therefore, I highly recommend that you find a granulated replacement for a granulated recipe and a liquid replacement for a liquid recipe, if you don’t want to have to mess around and make the recipe 15 different times to get it right!
Raw applications of honey:
-Drizzled over goat cheese or cream cheese as a spread for crackers and quick breads.
-Roast vegetables and drizzle with raw honey
-Edible Playdough for kids (When I was a kid I loved to go to my friends house because her mom would let us make this. It was always a fun and filling snack.)
Directions: Mix together in a bowl : ½ c. peanut or almond butter, ¼ c. honey, and ½ c. powdered milk. Let kids mix with hands, roll out, shape with cookie cutters, etc. and ultimately eat!
Honey isn’t only good to eat, it has many medicinal qualities as well. I’ll be discussing some of my favorite uses of honey as a natural remedy in my next article.
To Your Health!