Honey is a popular sweetener produced from nectar, propolis or “bee glue” and enzymes in a bees’ saliva. Other insects produce honey but bee honey is the more popular kind. Honey is composed of simple sugars easily used by the body. It was the earliest reliable sweetener used in baking, enjoyed as spreads and added to drinks. It is also currently used in the manufacturing of certain processed foods like ham.
Light colored honeys are generally milder in flavor while darker ones are more robust. Depending on the bees’ nectar source, the color and flavor of honey may differ. There are currently more than 300 kinds of unique honey in the United States.
Forms of honey
Although honey is normally found in a liquid state, it can also change into a semi-solid state otherwise known as granulated honey. This condition can sometimes happen when glucose, the main sugar in honey, separates from the honey solution creating crystallization; losing its water content. The crystal then forms a framework that places other elements of honey into suspension resulting in the semi-solid state.
The displaced water condenses in some part of the container increasing moisture content; jump-starting the growth of yeast and fermentation. Although honey can sometimes crystallize on its own, dust and pollen or air bubbles can serve as triggers for crystallization of honey. To avoid crystallization, it is essential to store honey properly. Using air tight, moisture resistant containers is recommended when storing honey for long periods of time.
Honey that has crystallized; however, does not need to be thrown out as it has not gone bad. Heating it slowly in a warm bath will dissolve the sugar crystals back to liquid form. Other forms of honey include comb honey, which is honey in its original state, cut comb honey; which is liquid honey with added chunks of honey comb in the jar, liquid honey; which is honey extracted from the honey comb and whipped honey, which is brought to markets in a crystallized state. According to Honey.com, crystallization is controlled so that the honey can be spread at room temperature like jelly or butter. Whipped honey is a popular choice in certain parts of the world and, for breakfast, it is sometimes preferred over liquid honey.
Most of the honey available in the United States is in liquid form.
Uses of honey and its nutritional benefits
Honey is popularly known as a sweetener, but many do not know that it also contains nutritional and medical qualities praised by none other than Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
According to a Swiss study that discussed the nutritional value of honey, honey is rich in carbohydrates but has a low glycemic index (GI). Its GI varies within a range of 32 to 86 depending on the botanical source. Fructose rich honey, such as acacia honey, has a low GI; lower in fact than sucrose which is pegged at 60 to 110. Foods with low GI release glucose into the blood slowly and steadily; high GI foods cause blood sugar to spike. High GI foods are not suitable for diabetics; but those after a workout or are experiencing hypoglycemia will benefit from its ability to give immediate energy.
Honey contains the following trace minerals: potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium, chloride, sulfur, iron, copper, iodine and zinc which although marginal, may contribute to the recommended daily intake requirements. It contains choline, a B-vitamin essential for brain and cardiovascular functions, cellular membrane composition and repair; and a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
Honey has anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-parasitic effects. Its capacity to inhibit the growth of micro-organisms and fungi is well documented. The low water activity of honey inhibits bacterial growth and honey glucose oxidase produces the anti-bacterial agent hydrogen peroxide.
Depending on its botanical source, honey gives significant anti-oxidant activity protecting against oxidation responsible for chronic diseases. It also has anti-mutagenic, anti-tumor as well as anti-inflammatory qualities that stimulate anti-body production.
Honey is effective in dressing wounds. It has recently been used in clinical settings for treating fist sized ulcers extending to the bone as well as in the treatment of first, second and third degree burns. Complete recovery has been reported with no infections, muscle loss or any need of skin grafts. When the wounds are clean, honey acts as a healer. Garlic honey, which is just a mixture of honey and garlic, can be applied directly to infected wounds to clean the area. Dr. Peter Molan of Waikato University in New Zealand observed that honey was more effective in managing infections on burn wounds than anti-bacterial ointments used in hospitals.
Moreover, in a study conducted by Penn State University, honey was discovered to be better at alleviating cough than over the counter drugs. The study led by Dr. Ian Paul found that a small amount of buckwheat honey, given before bedtime, provided better relief for kids from night time cough and sleep difficulty than the use of dextromethorphan (DM). DM is an over the counter cold medication. This finding is significant in light of a recent Food and Drug Administration advisory that cautioned against giving cough and cold medicine to children below six years old due to its potential side effects ineffectiveness. Incidentally, consumers spend billion of dollars each year for medication not proven to give significant relief.
Who can benefit from honey?
Clinical studies have found that honey sits well with infants. It was observed to increase their weight, haemoglobin content, give them better skin and digestion while increasing their immunity from disease. In fact, honey has been observed to produce a mild laxative effect and is recognized as a treatment for constipation in Eastern Europe.
Athletes will find honey to be an effective source of carbohydrates that can improve their athletic performance. Patients suffering from hepatitis A can benefit from honey’s capacity to cause a decrease in the alanine aminotransferase activity (an increased ALT is indicative of liver damage) and a decrease in bilirubin production (a product breakdown responsible for the yellow color in bruises and urine and increased levels may indicate certain diseases). Among cancer patients undergoing cancer radiation therapy, honey was observed to reduce incidents of radiation mucositis, a common toxicity for head and neck cancer whose consequences include pain, weight loss and micro-nutrient deficiencies.
Generally, honey is safe for children and adults even in large qualities. Avoid giving honey to infants under 12 months to avoid the risk of botulism poisoning. Allergic reactions to honey have also been reported in individuals allergic to pollen.