Power foods: honey

John McGimsey

Power Foods Honey

Until a few hundred years ago, honey was the only sweetener available to most of the world. The Chinese sucked the sweet juice from sugar cane and the Indians of North America boiled the sap of maple trees to make a thick syrup. But, except for honey, most people rarely tasted sweeteners. With the evolution of sugar cane plantations in the West Indies in the 17th century, refined sugar became easier to ship, store and use than honey and quickly became more popular.

Today, people are coming full circle and again choosing honey over sugar when they need a sweetener. The chief benefit of honey is that it is a nutritious food and no chemicals are used in its production. Refined white sugar, on the other hand, is what’s left of raw sugar after it is washed, filtered and bleached.

Honey is good for baking because it absorbs moisture from the air, so breads and cakes made with honey stay moist longer. It can be stored almost indefinitely without fear of contamination since it is a natural preservative and destroys certain kinds of bacteria.

Honey contains trace amounts of potassium, calcium, phosphorus and other vitamins and minerals. However, huge quantities (at least 5 cups per day) would have to be consumed to get anywhere near the daily requirements for these nutrients.

Throughout history people have used honey for a number of medicinal purposes. It has been used to soothe the nerves, ward off snake bite, cure hay fever, banish insomia and soothe upset stomachs. The Greek physician Galen prescribed a paste made of powdered bees and honey applied to the scalp to restore hair. To strengthen eyesight, Galen recommended four parts of honey mixed with one part of the gall of a sea tortoise. Although we don’t place quite as much faith in the restorative powers of honey today, it is effective for sore throat relief and is an ingredient in some cough syrups.

You may be surprised to learn that honey has 18 more calories per tablespoon than common table sugar, but since honey can be 25 to 40 percent sweeter than sugar, less is needed for the same sweetening power.

You can substitute honey for sugar in recipes with no change up to 1/4 of a cup. After that amount, however, you need only use 1/2 to 3/4 the amount required by the recipe.

The flavor of the honey depends on the flowers from which the bees draw nectar. The most common sources are alfalfa and clover, which are mild in flavor and light in color; buckwheat, which is dark and robust; and wildflower, which is somewhere in between.

Comb honey is the least processed variety, while unfiltered or strained honey has the impurities screened out but some of the nutrients left in. “Raw” or “uncooked” honey is actually honey which has been heated for a short time. Because raw honey may contain certain toxins, parents are warned not to feed it to children under 1 year old. However, ordinary cooking will destroy the spores. Common liquid honey usually is heated to higher temperatures then filtered to remove all minute particles, including all the enzymes and nutrients. Crystallized or granulated honey makes a smooth creamy spread.

Your health food store will carry all of these honey varieties. Try a few different kinds to pin down the taste you like best. Next time you have hot cereal or a hot beverage to which you would normally add sugar, substitute honey instead. You’ll be surprised at the rich taste and you’ll feel better about what you’re putting into your body.

PHOTO : An Apiarist “robs” his beehives to gather raw honey for processing.

COPYRIGHT 1989 PRIMEDIA Intertec, a PRIMEDIA Company. All Rights Reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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