Published: 03/21/2015 - Updated: 04/11/2016
Honey is one of the oldest sources know for sweetening the diet, and fruits might be the only other things that predates it. Traces of honey can be seen in cave paintings and in more latent forms in ancient Egyptian culture. Honey was once the Queen of the kitchen, and was only substituted later on by sugar cane. The ingenuity that brought processing to sugar cane created a more neutral sweet flavor, and a more uniform production process with lower costs. Before, sweet flavors in cuisine was a luxury and still today, honey isn’t exactly the cheapest sweeten. It is, however, an interesting and complex element that can be blended into a variety of meals.
There’s nothing that tempts the palate more than sweet flavors, which come from carbohydrates known as sugars. These are the primary macronutrients ingested daily through the diet, and that act as the primary energy source for the body. Of all the different types of sugars and sweeteners that have been introduced to kitchens around the world, my favorite one is honey.
The honey normally found in supermarkets comes from a type of bee known as the Apis mellifera, on the American continent. There are other bee species that don’t have stingers, but because they collect liquids from a wider variety of sources, including animal cadavers, those honeys could sometimes be toxic or taste unpleasant. That’s why the Apis mellifera is so popular, because it primarily comes from plant flowers, especially legumes. The taste of honey can vary greatly due to the characteristics of the nectar collected, which could also give it different colors and flavors.
Honey encompasses different proportions of three types of the most common sugars: glucose, fructose and sucrose. Fructose and glucose are its primary ingredients, and fructose is what provides the sweeter notes to honey. It is also the slowest sugar to be metabolized in the body, which slightly elevates blood sugar levels. That’s why glucose is sometimes used to sweeten some products for diabetics. Honey, however, also has glucose which is one of the simplest sugars around, and even though it isn’t as sweet, it does raise blood sugar levels. Because diabetics generally have high glucose levels, if you suffer from this problem it’s always best to see a physician before consuming anything that contains honey.
Honey stays mildew and bacteria-free in honeycombs in part because of its gluconic acid which provides a slightly acidic pH, and its peroxide content. These properties probably help in the syrups that contain honey which are used for sore throats. You can test this effect just by swallowing a tablespoon of honey with a bit of lemon. Honey also appears to have a few natural antibacterial proteins in it.
Honey also has important antioxidant properties provided by the phenolic compounds it contains, which help trap free radicals in the body and to slow the aging process. This property translates not only into health but it is also perfect for helping prepare food because it slows the appearance of bad odors and unpleasant or rancid tastes, especially in baked meats.
Honey also provides fewer calories than sugar when consumed. For example, 100 grams of honey contains 304 calories compared to the 387 calories in 100 grams of sugar. Likewise, there are fewer carbohydrates because honey contains more water, for example 100 grams of honey could have 82 grams of carbohydrates, while sugar has 100 grams of the purest carbohydrates.
Honey is undoubtedly delicious and can be used to prepare sauces, marinades, alcoholic beverages, pastries, and a long list of other foods. It is a good way of changing up your diet and the type of sweeteners you ingest daily. Half of the sugars in honey come from fructose found in fruit, and does not increase blood sugar levels the way glucose does. But honey is still a sugar, and you need to remember that. It is also important that you do not give it to children younger than 1 year of age. It has, at times, been known to carry botulism. It also does not prove to be any substantial source of vitamins, in fact it hardly has any, but it is a source of antioxidants and it does have some recognized antibacterial properties. In short, it’s important to vary your diet and it’s always fascinating knowing what you’re putting in your mouth.