What Do I Need to Know to Eat Honey?

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Americans consume 350 million pounds honey each year, according to "USA Today" -- and that's a lot of sweetness, whether it's eaten raw or included in sauces and other products. Although pure honey may have some health benefits, not all honeys are equal in quality and content. It's important you understand the types of honey and product labels so you don't waste your money and you avoid potential contamination.

Regional Taste Differences

  • The color and flavor of honey differs depending upon the blossoms honeybees feed on, and this means the U.S. has more than 300 kinds of honey. Among the lighter honeys are alfalfa, blueberry, tupelo, and the most common honey, clover. These types of honey have a mild, sweet taste, good for spreading on bread or adding to tea. Darker honeys, such as avocado and buckwheat honey, have a stronger flavor that's suited to marinades. Other distinctive types include orange blossom, with the flavor and aroma of oranges, and sourwood, with a flavor similar to anise. There's even a coffee honey, which has a rich, deep flavor that matches its color.

Forms Matter

  • You may think of honey as a golden, slightly viscous liquid, although honey also comes in other forms. Comb honey is cut right out of the beehive, but all parts of the product, including the chewy beeswax comb, are edible. Try it on pancakes, on top of cheese and crackers, or stirred into Greek-style yogurt. Cut-comb honey is a hybrid of liquid honey with chunks of the comb added to the jar, and can be used the same way. Creamed honey, which is crystallized at the factory, spreads like butter, making it a natural complement to biscuits.

Beware Sham Honey

  • The U.S. currently has no standard that defines pure honey on a national level. Many importers and domestic companies dilute honey with corn syrup or have additives or residue, and the pollen is filtered out. Some states are helping by taking matters in their own hands and setting up their own standards. Although these vary from one area to another, in general, shop for honey at natural food stores and look for the words "organic" or "pure" on the label. You can also buy honey from farmers markets.

Honey Safety

  • Spores of the microorganism Clostridium botulinum are sometimes in honey. Although they pose no threat to adults, the spores can cause the serious paralytic disease, botulism, in babies less than 1 year old. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents avoid feeding babies under 1 year of age honey of any kind. This includes any processed foods containing honey, such as honey graham crackers.

Tips for Storing Honey

  • Honey has a tendency to crystallize eventually, with crystals that can be large or small and grainy or creamy. This is a natural process and isn't harmful but may affect the taste of honey and make it hard to spread. To slow down the crystallizing process, keep your honey in a cool area, away from direct sunlight, in a tightly covered container. If your honey does crystallize, re-liquify it by heating the jar in a pan of hot water. Avoid overheating the honey, which will alter the flavor.

Naturally Sweet and Nutritious

  • Pure honey is a natural source of readily available carbohydrates and is one to one and one-half times sweeter than sugar. Each 1 tablespoon of honey has around 64 calories, as well as trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids.

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