Honey is hot this summer.
The golden liquid is gaining in popularity as people discover different varieties of honey, as well as its diverse uses and benefits.
Types of Honey
There are more than 300 kinds of honey produced in the United States, according to the National Honey Board’s website.
“Honeys come in all flavors and colors, from very strong black-as-oil buckwheat to delicate, almost clear acacia honey,” says Dr. Gene E. Robinson, director of the Institute for Genomic Biology and director of the Bee Research Facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Each and every flower blossom type is used by bees to make a different kind of honey.”
Each kind of honey has a different flavor, making it good for different uses. “I enjoy using a full-bodied dark honey in a hearty stew; I enjoy a delicate light honey in a fruit salad,” Robinson says.
Health Benefits of Honey
In addition to tasting sweet, honey has numerous health benefits. Robinson says that his lab’s research has shown that Illinois soybean honey is unusually high in antioxidants, and he noted that antioxidants have been known to help promote longevity.
“Honey contains a variety of important vitamins and minerals and is sweeter to humans than sugar, so we can eat less of it,” Robinson says.
The concentration of carbohydrates in honey can help sustain energy levels. For an energy boost, a tip on the National Honey Board’s website suggests adding honey to the water bottle you take on your workout.
Carol O’Brien of Cedar Creek Apiaries in Guttenberg, Iowa, has been raising bees since the 1970s and says that many of her customers believe that consuming local honey helps to control their allergy symptoms.
Robinson says that the scientific evidence for allergy relief is not strong because honey typically contains very little pollen from allergy-causing grasses. He said that while the scientific evidence may not be there, he is aware that some people do report good results when it comes to using honey to fight allergies.
Chris Saad of Honey Trails in Wayne, Ill., swears by a drink made from honey from one of his 160 hives, warm water, apple cider vinegar and cinnamon. O’Brien recommends a similar beverage using tea. Studies have shown that such a drink with honey can alleviate a sore throat or symptoms of the common cold.
It is important to note that honey should not be fed to infants younger than one year because it can be a source of spores that cause botulism poisoning in infants.
Honey is a natural humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture. O’Brien says many of her customers have been known to use honey on their faces. A tip on the National Honey Board website suggests applying honey to your face with the exposed side of an aloe vera leaf, leaving on for 15 minutes and then rinsing with cold water.
The moisturizing properties of honey make it great for lotion as well. Saad says his wife makes a hand cream with their honey, and it is one of their best sellers.
Ancient cultures were aware of honey’s skin benefits, using it to heal wounds both because it acted as a barrier to infection and because of its antimicrobial properties. “Honey is natural hydrogen peroxide,” says Saad of its antimicrobial properties. “Some still use it today as a healing ointment.”
Benefit the Bees
The interest in honey is driven in part by news of the declining bee population due to Colony Collapse Disorder, which has caused massive bee deaths around the country, though Robinson says Illinois has not been hit as hard as other areas.
“All the negative news about the bees and the threat they are under seems to promote business. People are more aware of bees and honey than ever before,” Saad says.
Not only is honey good for humans, but buying honey from the local farmers market can also help the bees. Such purchases allow local beekeepers to invest back into their operations and expand to meet the demand for local honey.
No matter how you use it, buying and consuming honey can make a life a little sweeter, both for humans and the bees.
The National Honey Board offers a broad array of recipes for all kinds of honey. Here are two to try:
Honey Lemon Avocado Dressing from the National Honey Board
- 1 avocado
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Can be used as a salad dressing or on meats, tacos or pasta.
Home Run Honey Sauce from the National Honey Board
- 1 cup water
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 6 tablespoons green onion, thinly sliced
- 6 teaspoons fresh jalapeño peppers, chopped and seeded
- 2/3 cup honey
- 4 tablespoons seedless red raspberry preserves
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 3 tablespoons hot sauce
1. In small bowl, whisk together water and cornstarch. Set aside.
2. Lightly spray the bottom of a medium saucepan with non-stick spray.
3. Over medium heat, sauté garlic, green onion and chopped jalapeño in the saucepan for 2 to 3 minutes until softened.
4. Add honey, raspberry preserves, ketchup and hot sauce to pan and stir well to incorporate.
5. Cook over medium heat for 1 to 3 minutes to infuse all flavors.
6. Whisk in water/cornstarch mixture and continue to cook over medium heat just until sauce thickens from cornstarch, about 3 minutes.
7. Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool slightly.
8. Brush sauce onto one side of meat (chicken breasts, ribs and pork chops all work well) during the final 1 to 2 minutes of grilling. (Sauce will burn if left over heat too long.)
9. Remove finished meat from grill and place onto serving platter. If desired, garnish top of meat with additional sliced green onion.