What Is Honey?
Honey is food made by bees for bees, but many people also enjoy it. Humans have prized honey for its sweet taste for thousands of years. Some researchers say honey is more than a sweetener. It may also have health benefits, though there is little evidence for some of its medicinal uses.
Raw honey comes straight from a beehive. Some honey producers pass the substance through a coarse filter to remove foreign matter, but it remains unprocessed food. Most of the honey sold in stores goes through a heating process to make it less sticky and easier to filter.
High temperatures pasteurize honey and destroy yeast cells in it that can cause unwanted fermentation.
What is a honeycomb?
Honeycombs are the areas bees put honey while they create it. They're basically small wax storage units.
Is honey bee vomit?
No, honey isn't bee vomit. While bees do suck up nectar from flowers to make honey, it doesn't go into their regular stomach. It goes into an expandable crop, which is also called the honey stomach. This is a separate stomach and helps them turn nectar into honey. The honey will never reach the actual digestive tract of a bee.
How Is Honey Made?
Bees make honey from the nectar of flowers. This honey is removed from the hives. Most honey you can buy is processed to improve its quality and shelf life. The two important stages of processing are:
Filtration. This removes pollen, beeswax, and other materials.
Heating. Unprocessed honey tends to ferment within a few days because of yeast and moisture. Heating it reduces the moisture content and kills any microorganisms.
Honey is basically sugar. It is actually higher in calories than the typical white sugar used for cooking or baking. Because it is sweeter, you may need less if you're using it as a substitute. Also, honey adds flavor that white sugar does not have.
One tablespoon of honey contains:
- Calories: 64
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 17 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Sugar: 17 grams
Honey contains some vitamins and minerals in trace quantities, including small amounts of:
Raw honey is not superior to processed honey in nutrition or health benefits. Researchers found that processing does not affect honey's nutritional value or antioxidant levels.
Types of Honey
Honey can also be harvested and processed in different ways.
Pasteurized honey. Most honey found in stores is pasteurized, which means it's been heated. Various methods and temperatures are used to pasteurize honey. Some honeys are heated at 65 C (or 149 F) for 30 seconds. Others may be heated at 85 C (185 F) for 4-5 minutes.
There are many types of honey, from manuka to acacia. Some of the most popular ones include:
- Tupelo honey. This has a light amber color. Its flavor is balanced and not too strong. It comes from the tupelo tree that grows in swamps and alongside riverbanks in South Georgia and Florida.
- Sourwood honey. This type has an even lighter amber color. Despite the name, its taste isn't sour. It's sweet, like butter or caramel. The sourwood tree blooms from late June to July anywhere from the Appalachian Mountains in Northern Georgia to the Southern Pennsylvania. They also bloom in Brazil.
- Mad honey. People in some countries (including Nepal and parts of Turkey) use mad honey as folk medicine to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, and digestive issues or to act as a sexual enhancement. Mad honey has a chemical called grayanotoxin in it, which comes from rhododendron plants. Sometimes people use it for its intoxicating effect. But this kind of honey can poison you. You could develop blurry vision, drooling, dizziness, headache, vomiting, or loss of muscle control. The chemical in this honey can also cause heart problems.
- Whipped honey. This type of honey, also called creamed honey, is in a crystallized form. But at room temperature, it spreads like butter or jelly.
- Clover honey. This can be white or light amber in color. It comes from the white clover blossom and has a mild flavor with a bit of a tangy aftertaste. You can find this honey everywhere. It's one of the most commonly used honeys for baking.
- Wildflower honey. This honey has a medium amber color. It tastes light and fruity, but the flavor can shift based on the flowers that are in bloom. This type of honey is made from the nectar of multiple flowers blended together, so it can be found anywhere in the world.
- Acacia honey. People usually use this type for tea. It's light amber in color and is very sweet. It can be used as an anti-inflammatory and helps liver function and your digestive tract. It's usually from the Black Locust trees in Europe and North America.
Infused honey is regular honey with flavors added to it. You can buy honey infused with many different things. These include spices like cinnamon, fruits, or spicier things like peppers.
Raw Honey vs. Processed Honey
Honey can also be harvested and processed in different ways.
Raw honey. The U.S. government has no official definition of raw honey. But the National Honey Board says it's generally considered to be honey that has not been heated during processing. Some may not be filtered. Raw honey is safe to eat, though children under 1 year should avoid all honeys.
Processed honey. Places that make honey usually process, or pasteurize, it before they sell it. This means that they heat it at a high temperature to kill yeast cells. This tends to make store-bought honey less nutritious. But even when it's processed, honey still contains a lot of health benefits.
Filtered Honey vs. Unfiltered Honey
Honey can come in filtered or unfiltered versions:
Filtered honey. All or most of the small particles, air bubbles, pollen grains, comb, and other things have been taken out.
Unfiltered honey. This honey might still have some find particles or other small pieces inside the honey itself.
All honey can crystallize. Types of honey that are higher in glucose are more likely to crystallize than others. Some types crystallize very slowly such as tupelo honey and sourwood honey.
Crystallized honey is safe to eat. You can use it as a spread or in hot drinks.
If your honey has crystallized, put the bottle in a bowl of hot (not boiling) water to soften. Don't microwave honey, as that can make it taste unpleasant.
Although it is not a rich source of nutrients, some people regard honey as a health food. There is little or no evidence for many common claims about honey, but research supports some of the following:
Honey contains antioxidants, which can protect the body from inflammation. Inflammation can lead to a variety of health issues, including heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. One study showed that antioxidants in buckwheat honey were detectable in blood plasma, showing that eating honey could enhance antioxidant activity in the body.
Cough relief for children
Health authorities do not recommend over-the-counter medications to treat young children's coughs and colds. Some parents may look for natural remedies. In one study, 2 teaspoons of honey relieved children's nighttime cough and allowed them to sleep. However, doctors do not recommend this practice for children less than a year old.
Minerals and compounds
Honey has about 31 different minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. It also has several important amino acids (the building blocks of protein).
Honey is high in polyphenols and flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. That means they help protect your body against some types of cell damage.
Wound and burn healing
For many years, honey has been used to treat burns and wounds. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties may ease burns and improve wound healing.
Some research has indicated that honey may help reduce cholesterol. In one study, levels of total cholesterol, LDL (or "bad") cholesterol, and triglycerides went down in people who had 70 grams of honey (about 2.5 ounces) each day for 4 weeks. Their HDL (or "good") cholesterol also increased.
Honey is a safe food for most people, but not for all. Here are some potential risks of eating honey, including raw honey:
Botulism in infants
You should not give honey to infants under 12 months. Honey contains dust particles that may carry spores of the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, that causes botulism. Because a baby's immune system is still developing, these spores can cause infant botulism, which could cause them to get very sick. Using honey in cooking food for children should be safe, as heat destroys most bacteria.
Infant botulism is a rare but serious illness that attacks your child's nerves. The first sign is usually constipation. Your baby may also have muscle weakness, which means they might have trouble feeding and breathing, and a weak cry.
People who are prone to allergies should be careful about eating honey. Although honey allergies are rare, they do occur. This is because of the bee pollen in the honey. Bee pollen is a mixture of pollen and digestive enzymes from bees. It can trigger a serious allergic reaction. You're more likely to find pollen in raw honey.
Some people say that eating local honey improves their seasonal allergies. They believe the pollen in the honey desensitizes them to pollen in the air. There is not enough evidence to support this. It could be harmful to rely on honey rather than seeking medical treatment for respiratory allergies.
Symptoms and signs of an allergic reaction include:
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Excessive sweating
Some honey has added fillers or ingredients. This can be anything including cane sugar, corn syrup, palm sugar, invert sugar, rice syrup, or inulin syrup.
It can be hard to look at honey and tell if it's real or not, unless you test it in a lab. It's best to be aware of the ingredients when you buy honey.
Where to Buy Honey
You can find honey at many different places:
- Grocery stores
- Farmer's markets
- Local beekeepers
You can also shop online to order honey to your house.
Honey bought in the U.S. was priced around $2.21 in 2018 and was a bit lower in 2019, at $1.97 for a container.