Part 1 dealt with how honey was made and some environmental issues. It was clear that honey is not without some controversy. However available and commonplace it seems to be across the world, it is something that we need to take notice of and consider.
In Part 2 we are going to talk a little more around the health and usage of honey.
Depending on your health practices/beliefs you may consider using honey as anything from a firm ‘no thanks’ to considering honey to be the elixir of life. Love it, hate it or avoid it, it’s a very interesting substance. As is the case with the history, production and environmental information available, a single blog, (or two), doesn’t even scratch the surface on health and cooking information.
Lets Get The Sugar Thing Out The Way
The composition of honey is actually quite complex. It has over 20 different types of sugars that fall under two main categories: glucose and fructose. Proportions vary depending on the source of the nectar. (As a general rule sweeter honeys have more fructose). At this point you would be tempted to start reading up about the different sugars to determine their health benefits or effects, but regardless of the prevalent type of sugar it all turns into glucose in your body.
This makes it a potent source of energy. For those of you that are carb conscious it’s a no go sweetener. On the flip side if you are looking for fat free, low protein then honey is on the menu.
What about diabetics?
But what if you are diabetic? That is a very tricky question. A meta analysis(i) of over 100 studies, done in 2018, looked specifically at honey for preventing and treating various types of diabetes. A number of the studies showed clear benefits of honey, not all were specific to diabetes but there was promise.
There were also a number of studies that were inconclusive or contrary.
The conclusion – further studies were required and dosage would have to be determined. That’s science for you – yes, no… maybe.
While I will not weigh in on whether a diabetic can or cannot use honey, it needs to be noted that there are other benefits to honey unlike many other regular or processed sugars commonly available. If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic or have issues with sugar, then perhaps proceed with caution and make sure you are working with a health professional.
The Glycemic Factor
The Glycemic Index (GI) of honey is closely related to the combination of its sugar content and can range from 35 – 80.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Glycemic Index (GI) then the quick answer is this – The GI level of food determines how quickly it spikes your blood glucose levels. The scale goes 1 – 100 and foods with a value of 55 or less are generally digested slower, therefore less likely to spike you blood glucose, therefore insulin levels.
Now you may think, ‘I’m not diabetic, so that doesn’t apply to me’, but think again. Insulin has a knock on effect on adrenal and cortisol levels, growth hormones and more.
The GI level can be mitigated by what you eat with your honey. This is called a Glycemic Load (GL). By combining foods with a higher fiber and/or fat content you can potentially lower the overall load of the meal. The idea is slow down the metabolization of the food. Having honey in your tea versus having it on a seed cracker has a vastly different effect on your body. This is something to consider when deciding where to use honey in your diet.
Storage and Use
Before we get into the health benefits of honey, let’s make sure we aren’t destroying all that goodness while it’s sitting on our shelf.
In part 1 I pointed out that the temperature was quite important. This is because the healing enzymes of honey begin to deteriorate and are deactivated by heat. Honey should not be heated above 40˚C. (This needs to be noted when cooking or baking with honey).
If you are using high heat then consider using a cheaper or pasteurized honey as you are using it for flavor and not for nutrition.
Pasteurized honey has been treated with high heat and is therefore not as nutritious as raw honey.
Like heat, light has the same effect on honey. It is best to keep it in a dark environment or in a dark container.
Honey stored in well sealed, dark glass containers have an indefinite lifespan. There have been vats found in Egyptian tombs dating back 4000 years. Still edible, still delicious.
You want to avoid plastic containers for two reasons. The first is the obvious reason of it being plastic and contaminating whatever is in it. The other is that plastic does in fact allow air in. This can darken the honey and even begin a small amount of fermentation.
- When measuring out your honey for a recipe, coat your measuring spoon or cup with a little coconut oil first. This will allow it to slide out without too much staying behind.
- To make honey more pliable or runny. Warm thick honey by placing the container in some warm, (not boiling), water for 10 – 15 minutes.
- Honey can also be caramelized like sugar. You will need to heat it to around 70˚C or higher.
- Honey browns more quickly than sugar. When baking you may have to lower the oven temperature and cook for longer.
The Health Benefits(ii)
Honey has been used as a healing balm and drink for millennia. Before the science and terminology was even invented, honey was used as an antimicrobial and antibacterial agent. Today medical grade honey is still being used.
The most notable studies are now being done around its efficacy in life threatening antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A medical article(ii) published in 2011 listed the first written mentions of honeys medicinal properties as follows:
“a Sumerian tablet writing, dating back to 2100-2000 BC, mentions honey’s use as a drug and an ointment. Aristotle (384-322 BC), when discussing different honeys, referred to pale honey as being “good as a salve for sore eyes and wounds”
That same article went on to conclude that after reviewing many studies, “Microbial resistance to honey has never been reported”.
Honey is most useful in the medicinal sense as a topical application. However, this does not mean you get to bypass the doctor if you have a wound. The use and application for these purposes are done under medical supervision and dosage. What this does is simply validate the healing abilities of honey.
What about when we eat it?
Honey has many health aiding benefits to it and can be a valuable addition to a healthy diet. However, caution must be taken and we must remember:
- It is still a sugar
- Where you get it from is important
- How you store it and use it impacts its health benefits
- Bees are crucial to our survival as a species, so be responsible when using honey
Almond Butter Toffee
- Candy Thermometer
- Electronic Scale
- Parchment Paper (optional)
- Loaf Pan or flat dish
- 150g Honey
- 150g Almond Butter or use your favourite nut or seed butter instead
- Coconut Oil for greasing
- Line dish with parchment paper or lightly grease with coconut oil
- Place honey in sauce pan with candy thermometer and set heat to medium
- Allow honey to boil until it reaches 120˚C - no candy thermometer - no problem. have a cup of cold water handy. When the honey is boiling, drop some (just a drop) into a cup of cold water, if it makes a ball and sinks then it’s ready
- Remove from heat and allow to cool for a bit (±1min)
- Add almond butter to the pot and stir until the mixture becomes toffee like and forms a ball (2-3min)- you should be able to handle the mixture without it sticking to your fingers
- Place mixture in the loaf tin or dish or your choice- you may have to bang the tin/s on the counter to level out the mixture
- Leave to cool for about an hour, then cover and refrigerate for 1 - 2 hours
- Remove from fridge, cut into toffee size blocks and serve (can be individually wrapped in parchment or wax paper for gifting)
- Use a nut or seed butter of your choice. (Different nut and seed butters have different textures. End results may vary)
- Add choc chips, chili flakes, dried orange rind, botanicals, ginger, vanilla, course sea salt, whole nuts…
- Store in airtight container, in between layers of parchment or wax paper
- Keep refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. (It sets more & gets better the longer you leave it in the fridge)