Did you know honey has been used as medicine since ancient times by many cultures including the Egyptians, Persians and Chinese? Hippocrates (357 BC) and Aristotle (384 to 322 BC) both wrote accounts of therapeutic honey. When I have a sore throat and cough, my go-to drink is very easy to make, one  tablespoon of honey, ½ of a fresh lemon (squeezed) and one cup of boiling water (stir well). In this Grow with Nutrition post, I’m sharing with you – honey making 101, some fun honey facts, the health benefits and a yummy recipe for honey buns.

Honey Making 101

There are about 8,000 beekeepers in Canada providing honey to both the domestic and international markets. Earlier this year, I met a commercial beekeeper at a fruit and vegetable conference.  He gave me the honey making 101 in less than five minutes, reminding me that honey undergoes pasteurization not a as food safety measure but to increase its shelf-life.

Here is the skinny on honey making:

  • Worker bees collect nectar from flowers around their hive. They carry nectar from the flowers to the hive via a long tube called the probocis and store it in a special stomach used specifically for nectar transportation. Their stomachs contain specific enzymes that start the honey making process.
  • Once the bees return to the hive they pass the nectar between each other, furthering the process.
  • The bees store the nectar in honey combs which they fan until the consistency increases. At this point they seal the combs with more bee wax until it is collected by the beekeepers.
  • The beekeepers retrieve the honey comb trays and then scrape them.
  • The honey is strained to remove all of the bees wax.
  • Before bottling the honey, it undergoes pasteurization not to increase safety but to increase shelf-life of the product

Fun Honey Facts

  1. 556 worker bees are required to produce just one pound of honey (Canadian Canadian Honey Council: Bee Facts, 2012).
  2. The majority of harmful bacteria are not able to live in honey making it one of the safest foods (Canadian Bee Council: Bee Facts, 2012).
  3. Honey is available in different flavours and colours. The flavour and colour of the honey produced varies with the types of flowers that were available while the bees were collecting their nectar. (Ontario Beekeeper’s Association, 2012).

Honey and Health

Honey is made up of glucose and fructose. There are 64 calories per tablespoon of honey. Eating 125 calories a day more than you need for weight maintenance would theoretically cause you to gain ¼ lb. each week (13 lbs/year). You could take in this amount by eating just 2 tablespoons of honey every day. There are some very good things about consuming honey, so monitor how much you eat and don’t overdo it!

Honey is rich in antioxidants because the flowers from which the nectar is gathered have plant antioxidants. Human evidence on the effects of honey antioxidants is limited, although the antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory actions have been widely studied in humans.

Antibacterial, Antiviral and Anti-inflammatory

  • Studies have demonstrated honey has very strong antimicrobial properties (1-2). Honey has shown promise to reduce pain, swelling, redness and amount of time needed for closing of lesions significantly (1-2).
  • Honey may be a preferable treatment for upper respiratory tract infections in children in comparison to dextromethorphan (DM) (3). Honey was significantly more effective for cough relieve and inflammation than no treatment. Although there were no significant differences in between honey and DM treatment parents rated their child’s nocturnal cough and sleep better on the honey treatment (3).

Baking Tip

When baking, honey can be used as a replacement for sugar; however, you must keep a few things in mind:

Decrease the temperature by approximately 25 degrees Fahrenheit  as honey browns more quickly than sugar.

Replace sugar with ¾ of the amount of honey or replace sugar with the same amount of honey and reduce the liquids by one quarter (i.e. 1 cup sugar + 1 cup milk = 1 cup honey + ¾ cup milk) (Ontario Beekeeper’s Association, 2012).

Recipe

Want a Sunday brunch indulgent? Try these yummy honey buns from MarthaStewart.com. Enjoy!

References

  1. Al-Waili N S. Investigating the antimicrobial activity of natural honey and its effects on the pathogenic bacterial infections on surgical wounds and conjenctiva. Journal of Medical Food. 2004. 7(2): 210-222.
  2. Knipping S et al. Medical honey in the treatment of wound-healing disorders in the head and neck area. HNO. 2012. 60(9):830-6.
  3. Paul I M et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Archives of Pediatric Medicine. 2007. 161(12):1140-1146.