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September 22, 2014

Nature's Liquid Gold: Honey

Honey ImageWhether you’re using the word “honey” to describe a golden syrup or Winnie the Pooh’s favorite food, the word just sounds good, doesn’t it? Last time we looked no one was calling anyone “agave” as a term of endearment. 

September is National Honey Month. We know from our history lessons on the internet that honey has been a crowd pleaser since ancient days, long before Honey Boo Boo twirled onto the stage. (The name “honey” for a girl has jumped in popularity in the last two years, according to some sources. Coincidence? We think not.)

Honey is so popular that it brings along its own concerns and controversy: Should there be a standard of identity? (Currently under federal consideration.) Is raw honey more nutritious? (Depends on whom you ask.) And will bees be able to survive at all as they face constant new health threats? (Fingers crossed.)

Obviously the interest in honey is part of the natural/wholesome/health food movement even though it’s been around since ancient times when Greek poet Euripides praised the combo of honey and cheese – the first cheesecake. At mega-markets such as Jungle Jim’s International Market in Cincinnati, honey commands its own department – with more than 100 kinds of honey products. The National Honey Board says that consumption is up to nearly 450 million pounds from 410 million pounds in 2010, with 1.3 pounds consumed per capita.

Although the consumer might think each jar of honey is no big deal – tell that to the bee. According to the National Honey Board, the bees in a hive may visit two million flowers to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey. As they collect the nectar, the pollen sticks to a sac at the back of their legs. (Hence the expression “the bee’s knees,” which meant “cool” back in granny’s day.). The pollen is stored to feed the baby bees once the bee returns from his foraging journey, pollinating flowers and crops along the way. If the bee finds a particularly good floral patch, he dances to let his bee friends know. Honey, like coffee, can be single origin, sourced from one kind of blossom or it can be blended from several kinds.

After the nectar naturally breaks down into sugars in the honeycombs, those busy little bees help the process along by fanning their wings which causes evaporation. Those bees are clever as well as smart – they also make a wax comb to seal off each cell.

Once the honey is collected, it’s often warmed and filtered to remove any impurities. These days consumers are using honey in more ways than ever - as a substitute for sugar, to drizzle on Greek yogurt – but the tried and true serving method is as popular as ever, whether as a balm for sore throats, or to enhance the sweetness of that cuppa of tea.  

There are 300 kinds of honey available from floral sources as unique as Borage and Brazilian pepper, which gives honey the subtleties in flavor of a fine wine. Dare we say it? Sure, why not? Honey really is “the bee’s knees.”



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