- Food and Cooking
Healthy Benefits of Raw Honey
In ancient times honey was used as both a food and medicine. Beekeeping, called apiculture, dates back to at least 700 BC. Honey was regarded as sacred and used mainly in religious ceremonies and embalming. For centuries only the wealthy could afford its use as a culinary ingredient.
Its use as a sweetener continued unabated until it was discovered refined sugar could be produced from sugar cane and beets. Although honey was still occasionally used in confectionary, it was more or less regulated to medicinal purposes. Today, more and more people are turning to alternative medicines and honey is being “rediscovered” as an excellent one. Recent research also indicates honey is useful as an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.
Raw honey is rapidly becoming more popular with a growing number of consumers. It’s desired for the same reasons raw vegetables are chosen over cooked. It’s healthier. Of course, honey’s health benefits depend on the quality of pollen, health of the plant it came from and processing. Processing often removes many of the phytonutrients found in raw honey.
Phytonutrients are nutrients derived from plant material deemed necessary for sustaining human life. Some phytonutrients have been shown to aid in cancer prevention and possess anti-tumor properties. When raw honey is processed, these benefits are greatly diminished.
At one time much of the medical community scoffed at the idea something found freely in nature could do what people claim.
But, beekeepers knew all along. How many sick beekeepers do you know? The number isn’t nearly as many as those who have relied solely on conventional medicine. Positive testimonials to its curative properties would fill volumes.
In its raw state, honey contains small amounts of resins found in propolis, sometimes called "bee glue." Honeybees make propolis by mixing plant resins with their own secretions then seal their hives with it, thus protecting it from bacteria. However, small amounts of undesired particles, like road tar, have also been found in propolis.
Over 100 children with upper respiratory tract infections participated in one study. Some were given a single dose of buckwheat honey for relief of nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty. Another group took a name brand cough medicine while others took nothing. The best improvements were seen in those who had taken the honey. However, doctors advise not giving raw honey to those one year old or younger due to bacteria that might cause botulism.
Some physicians now say honey may help control blood sugar levels. New studies suggest the body's tolerance to honey is significantly better than to sucrose or glucose alone and boosts the immune system. In several tests of patients with high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes, honey was proven to be the healthiest sweetener.
However, honey’s most outstanding feature may be its wound healing properties. It has been used for centuries to treat burns and wounds and a therapeutic agent for ulcers. In addition, honey also contains antioxidants and flavonoids thought to act as antibacterial agents.
Darker colored honeys, such as those produced from buckwheat flowers, sage and tupelo, contain more antioxidants than others. For those seeking health benefits from this golden nectar, raw unprocessed honey is the best choice.
Honey comes in various colors including white, amber, red, brown and almost black. Its flavor and texture depends on the type of flower from which it was made. The most common are made from clover, alfalfa, heather and acacia flowers.
Generally, lighter colored honeys are mild while darker honeys have a more robust flavor. Most honey sold in supermarkets is usually pasteurized. But, raw honey can often be found at local farmers markets. Honey not pasteurized, clarified or filtered is best. Look for "100% pure" on the label. Currently there are no strict legal uniform codes for labeling honey as “raw.” Raw honey can be found that has been slightly warmed. This retards granulation and makes light straining and packing easier.
Keep honey stored in an airtight container to keep it from absorbing moisture. Honey stored in a cool dry place will have a long shelf life while those stored at higher temperatures may have an altered flavor and tend to darken.
Comb honey is the most unprocessed form. Today, it’s difficult to find, but sometimes you can locate a jar with a piece added. Before honey extracting devices, honey was mostly produced in this form.
There are those who say honey is sticky and messy to use. For these finicky eaters there is cream honey, also known as whipped, spun, granulated honey or honey fondant. It has a smooth consistency and can be spread like butter.