Cooking With Honey

Sure, honey is great as a sweetener for tea, slathered on hot toast and homemade biscuits, and drizzled on pancakes and ice cream. But what about using it in cooking? Here are some things you should know..

Honey has higher sweetening power than sugar. Ounce for ounce, honey contains as many calories as regular granulated sugar. Honey is made of fructose and glucose, the ratio being dependent on the floral sources; sugar is made of sucrose, which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. As a generality, 1 tablespoon of honey (21 g) is 64 calories with 17 grams of carbohydrates, This of course varies from honey to honey as the fructose:glucose ratio varies. Granulated sugar is constant at 60 calories with 15 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. On the glycemic index, honey weighs in at 58 and sugar at 60. Honey contains a few amino acids if there is pollen present, but not enough to make a substantial difference nutritionally. So why is honey better than sugar? There are two big differences between honey and sugar: 1) The way they are processed. Honey comes naturally processed by honey bees directly from the nectar of flowers, while sugar is processed from sugar cane or sugar beets in a refinery. 2) Because of its high fructose content, honey has higher sweetening power than sugar. This means you can use less honey than sugar to achieve the desired sweetness. This is a big factor for diabetics because 1/2 the quantity equals 1/2 the calories.

Honey can be used as a replacement for sugar in baked goods. The rules according to “For every 1 cup of sugar: 1) substitute 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey; 2) subtract 1/4 cup of other liquids from the recipe; 3) add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda; 4) Reduce the temperature of the oven by 25°F.”

Ever wondered how to get all that sticky honey off your spoon? Spray the spoon with cooking spray first. The honey will just slide right off.

Crystallized honey is not “bad” honey. In fact, that creamed honey we all love so much is crystallized, but in a controlled manner. All pure unfiltered honey will crystallize at some point. Remember that fructose:glucose ratio we talked about? That is what determines the rate at which the honey will crystallize. Glucose falls out of suspension before fructose and forms jagged little crystals on the bottom of the jar, gradually working its way into the rest of the honey. Our fall honey, from goldenrod and asters, crystallizes much more quickly than our summer honey, which is primarily from clover and dandelions. Do those little crystals cause a problem for you? Not to worry. Simply heat a pan of water to boiling, turn off the heat, and place your jar of honey in the hot water. How long it takes to re-liquify is dependent on the amount of crystallization. Just be very gentle with heating if you want to preserve the pollen proteins, keeping the honey temp to 100°F. Should you decide to microwave the honey (not an endorsement), know that you will probably denature the proteins and the honey will caramelize at 160°F. The jar also gets extremely hot, so use caution!

Honey should be kept at room temperature. Storing it in a refrigerator will speed up crystallization. Conversely, creamed honey will become liquid again if left in a hot environment, such as on a black tablecloth at a vendor show. (First hand experience!)

Honey will never “spoil”. Among the treasures discovered in the 1922 excavation of King Tutankhamun’s tomb was a 3,000 year old jar of honey. Archaeologists tasted it and to their amazement found it to be just as good. That’s because honey is less than 20% water and no bacteria can survive in that environment. However, honey is also a humectant, which means it absorbs moisture from the air. If it is left open for prolonged periods of time it can absorb enough water for yeast to begin fermentation. It’s still good to eat, although the taste will be altered, and it makes great mead (a fermented honey beverage)! 

The following pages include numerous recipes and ways to use honey. All recipes are from the National Honey Board ( and used with permission. Be sure to check out their web site. It’s loaded with good information as well as a honey locator. Find an apiary in your neck of the woods.

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