Make sure your honey is the real thing

Teaspoon for teaspoon, honey has the same amount of sweetness as granulated sugar, so people who need to avoid sweetened foods will have to treat honey the same as sugar. BY JACK CLEMONS
March 11, 2013

Have you read the label on your honey jar lately? Some of those cute little plastic bears in our cupboards may not contain honey after all. According to the results of extensive testing by Food Safety News, more than three-quarters of the commercially available honey is something less than the real thing.

As we know, bees make honey. They produce this naturally sweet substance from flower nectar they collect and deposit in beeswax honeycombs. Honey has been used for centuries in cooking and for beauty treatments and wound healing. This concentrated energy source is rich in nutrients and also known for antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Honey may be produced from a single type of blossom (e.g., clover honey), or it may be blended from a number of flower nectars (e.g., wildflower honey). Positioning hives so the bee population will harvest nectar from only one type of flower is more difficult and costly, while allowing them access to a wide range of plant sources can deliver lovely honey at a slightly lower cost.

One of the active ingredients in honey is pollen. The same tiny grains that bring misery to allergy sufferers also allow scientists to verify the source of honey. Each flower in a specific region of the world has a signature pollen, recognizable under a microscope and key to identifying the location of the hives. According to the research by Food Safety News, the vast majority of honey sold in this country has no pollen.

How does that happen? It’s certainly not the case in comb honey. This is honey in its purest form: combs made from pure honey and edible wax removed directly from the hive. Cutting the comb from the frame and packaging the pieces for sale are the only processing steps involved.

The next processing step is used to bottle liquid honey: straining to remove inedible bee parts, large particles of wax or debris, leaving the pollen intact. The ultimate (and unnecessary) degree of processing entails forcing heated honey through extreme filtration under high pressure. What remains is often combined with extenders such as high-fructose corn syrup or molasses and other coloring or flavoring agents. This product, although labeled “honey” has not one bit of pollen to identify its source.

How do you make sure your honey is honey? Avoid national brands or store brands sold in supermarkets and big box stores. Drugstore brands (yes, Walgreens and CVS sell honey) and single-serve packets available at fast food restaurants are completely without pollen. Most honey varieties labeled organic and those sold in organic markets were found to have appropriate levels of pollen.

Your best option when purchasing honey is to buy it from the beekeeper. In this area, there are several reputable apiaries selling their honey through local retail markets and directly to consumers. Lewes Gourmet features products from Spring Creek Apiaries in Frederica. Their blueberry blossom honey has a deep color and unique, rich flavor that pairs perfectly with oatmeal; wildflower blossom honey transforms a cup of tea with delicate sweetness. Lloyds Market carries honey from S&S Apiaries in Dover, including creamed honey.

All honeys will crystallize, some more quickly than others, based on the sugar content. Store honey in a cupboard, not the refrigerator. When it becomes crystallized, set the jar in a saucepan filled with warm (not too hot) water until it liquifies. Don’t use the microwave, as the extreme heat will destroy the nutrients and flavor.

A process that controls the crystallization naturally occurring in all honey is used to create creamed honey. The beekeeper manages the temperature and environment to encourage crystallization at a specific, small-granule size. Yellow or golden-colored creamed honey has a texture as smooth as softened butter.

Teaspoon for teaspoon, honey has the same amount of sweetness as granulated sugar, so people who need to avoid sweetened foods will have to treat honey the same as sugar. If you’re substituting honey in a recipe, keep in mind that it weighs more, and adds acidity, moisture and distinct flavor to the food.

In baking, a common rule of thumb is to replace one cup of sugar with three-quarters of a cup of honey and also reduce the amount of liquid by one-quarter cup. In some recipes, you may also need to lower the oven temperature by twenty-five degrees to avoid over-browning.

I’ve included two chicken recipes featuring honey, one for a salad and the other for marinated tenders. Aside from a cup of tea, the most delicious way to enjoy honey is shown in the photo - just pour it on.

Chicken Salad

1 1/2 C cooked chicken, chopped
1/3 C diced celery
1/2 C halved seedless grapes
1/2 C slivered almonds
1/3 C light mayonnaise
1/3 C light sour cream
1/4 C wildflower or clover honey
1/2 t poppy seeds
salt & pepper, to taste

In a serving bowl, combine chicken, celery, grapes and almonds; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour dressing over chicken and toss gently to coat. Serve on lettuce leaves with additional grapes for garnish.

Grilled Chicken

1 lb chicken tenders
1/4 C olive oil
3 minced garlic cloves
1 T grated ginger
1 T sesame seeds
1/2 C honey
1/2 t salt

Combine all ingredients in zip-top plastic bag. Seal bag and toss to thoroughly coat chicken. Refrigerate for at least two hours (or as long as overnight). Preheat broiler or grill. Thread chicken tenders onto skewers (if using wooden skewers, soak in water for 30 minutes beforehand); discard excess marinade. Broil skewers until chicken is golden brown, about 10 minutes; or grill, turning once, for six minutes per side.

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