Honey: A Basic Guide
Honey, by definition, is a sweet liquid produced by bees from the nectar of various flowers.
People have been collecting honey for thousands of years, and the first evidence of actual beekeeping dates back to the ancient Egyptians around 2500 B.C.
Forms of Honey
Honey is most commonly sold in liquid form, which has been extracted from the comb by gravity, straining, or centrifugal force, but other forms are available, as well.
Comb honey is collected in the original, edible wax comb produced by the bees.
It can be found whole, or in "cut comb" form, which is simply liquid honey jarred along with chunks of the comb.
Whipped honey, the preferred variety in many parts of the world, is made by controlling the crystallization process to produce fine crystals. The resulting product is smooth and spreadable.
Honey should be stored at room temperature, in a sealed container. Although the flavor and aroma tend to deteriorate slightly, recommended shelf life is about two years. Crystallization is a natural process and doesn't mean that the honey is spoiled or unusable. To eliminate the crystals, just place the honey jar in a larger jar of warm water, and stir it until the crystals dissolve.
The Color & Flavor of Honey
The color and flavor of honey is determined by the source of the nectar, and most honey is named for the flower of its origin. There are about 300 varieties of honey collected in the United States alone, ranging in flavor from very mild to rich and intense.
As a general rule of thumb, the darker the honey is in color, the more intense the flavor will be. Here are some commonly available varieties along with brief flavor profiles.
- Alfalfa ~ very light almost white in color, with a pure, mild flavor
- Buckwheat ~ dark brown color with a strong, distinctive taste
- Clover ~ varies from white to pale amber in color, with a very mild flavor
- Orange Blossom ~ light amber in color, distinctive flavor, orange blossom aroma
- Sage ~ white in color and delicately flavored
- Tulip Poplar ~ dark amber in color, but surprisingly mild in flavor
- Tupelo ~ light amber color, mild flavor and will not granulate
- Wildflower ~ light to medium amber, flavor varies, but is generally mild
Cooking With Honey
Honey has a high fructose content and consequently has more sweetening power than sugar. Keep this in mind when using honey in place of sugar in your recipes. A 12-ounce jar of honey is equivalent to a standard one-cup volume measure.
You can substitute honey for sugar in baking, but there are a few rules you need to follow. First, it's best to only substitute 1/2 of the total quantity of sugar with honey. Use 3/4 cup of honey for each cup of sugar in the recipe. For each cup of honey, reduce the overall volume of other liquids by 1/4 cup and add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to balance the extra acidity the honey provides. Also, reduce your oven temperature by 25°F to avoid over-browning.
For information on selection and where to find the different forms and many varieties of honey in the United States, visit the National Honey Board's Honey Locator website.