Katie's Healthy Bites: The Buzz About Honey

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liquid honey and a spoon

Photo by: Andriy Titov

Andriy Titov

It's National Honey Month, so let’s pay tribute to this delicious natural sweetener. The average American consumes about 1.3 pounds of honey each year -- find how its made, its benefits and how to keep it fresh. Plus: does local honey really help cure allergies? We've got the scoop.

Honey: From Flower to Hive to Jar

How is honey made? By bees, of course! They collect flower nectar in their mouths and transport it to the hive. In the hive, bees ingest and process the nectar (using their honey stomachs) transforming it into honey and storing it in the honeycomb. The bees’ fluttering wings aid in reducing the moisture content of the honey and raising the sugar concentration, preventing fermentation. The honey is then ready for harvest by a beekeeper. Each beehive contains around 60,000 bees that travel up to 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar to produce just one pound of honey!

Honey can be made from over 300 floral sources in the United States, including clover (the most common source), alfalfa, buckwheat, lavender, and orange blossom. Honey’s color and flavor varies based on the nectar’s plant of origin. Lighter-colored honeys are milder with a sweeter flavor, while darker honeys have a more full-bodied flavor and often contain more antioxidants.

Types of Honey:

Raw honey is liquid honey extracted from the honeycomb with minimum processing and no heat treatment.

Comb honey is simply honey inside of the honeycomb; the beeswax comb is edible. Cut comb honey is liquid honey with added chunks of honey comb in the jar.

Liquid honey is extracted from the honey comb. Free of visible crystals, this is the most commonly-used form of honey.

Naturally crystallized honey contains spontaneously-formed crystals of glucose, giving the honey a cloudy appearance.

Whipped honey is processed by controlled crystallization, and can be spread like jelly at room temperature.

How to Store Honey

Honey should be stored in a sealed container at room temperature (64-75°F) to prolong shelf life and prevent the honey from crystallizing. Storing it at high temperatures can cause the honey to darken and dull in flavor. Note to all kitchen hoarders: Honey usually lasts about two years if properly stored (through heavily processed varieties can last forever!)

Is Honey Healthy Eats?

Honey is primarily made up of carbohydrates and water, with naturally occurring enzymes, vitamins and minerals, and amino acids, as well as antioxidants. Honey is a great source of carbohydrates, providing 17 grams per tablespoon with only 64 calories. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source. When honey is eaten before exercise, the fuel is steadily released to your body throughout your workout. Honey is a delicious treat for young and old, although it is not recommended for feeding to children less than one year of age due to risk of botulism.

The Local Honey Hype

Can local honey really relieve symptoms of allergy sufferers? While not much research has been conducted on the subject, one informal study found that allergy sufferers taking two teaspoons of local honey per day had fewer symptoms than those taking non-local honey or no honey at all. Local honey is usually produced by bees within a few miles of where a person lives – the closer to a person’s home, the better. This closeness increases the chance that the same flowering plants and grasses that cause a person’s allergy symptoms were used by the bees to make the honey thus allowing the body to build up an immunity to some local pollens.

I love lavender honey, almond butter-and-honey sandwiches and honey on grilled cheese. What is your favorite type of honey and use for this tasty natural treat?

Katie Cavuto Boyle, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, personal chef and owner of HealthyBites, LLC. See Katie's full bio »

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