Honey adds a unique flavor buzz and delicate floral sweetness to everything from appetizers to baked goods to sauces and salad dressings. If you love this sweet syrup as much as I do and want to let it shine in your dishes in all it's liquid gold glory, you'll likewise want to study up on our best practices for using it to sweeten your kitchen life. Here are the top 10 things you need to know about cooking with honey:
#1. Honey is good medicine.
Honey is proving to be more than just a sweet treat to drizzle over yogurt, pancakes, or toast. It’s also good medicine. Of course, sometimes the benefits of this nectar of the bees are a bit overhyped. So here’s a quick recap on how honey can and can’t improve health.
Wound Healer: Yes.
A huge body of research confirms honey is a potent broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that can treat ulcers, burns, or any unhealed wound. Scientists speculate it could be honey’s acidity, it’s nutritional and antioxidant content, or a yet-to-be identified component that helps with healing.
Cough Suppressant: Yes.
Giving kids (age 2 or older) two teaspoons of honey at bedtime helps reduce nighttime coughing and improve sleep according to Penn State researchers. In fact, honey proves just as effective as the active ingredient (dextromethorphan) in over-the-counter cough suppressants. One caveat to note: Due to the risk of infant botulism, it’s never a good idea to give honey to a child younger than age 1.
Allergy Remedy: Eh, probably not.
Locally made honey is supposed to fight seasonal allergies. But when a 2002 University of Connecticut study compared two types of honey and a placebo syrup (made to taste like honey) neither the honey, nor the placebo, helped relieve allergy symptoms in participants. Experts suggest that seasonal allergies are more often triggered by wind-borne pollens, not the pollen spread by insects, so locally made honey doesn't necessarily posses the antidotal effect it's often touted for.
Healthier Sweetener for Diabetics: No.
Granulated sugar, brown sugar, or honey--they all impact blood sugar in much the same way. Any slight differences in calories or sweetness levels are not worth worrying over. As with all sugars, moderation is key.
#2. Honey isn't actually that much healthier than sugar.
Honey does have trace amounts of nutrients, but like ordinary sugar and high fructose corn syrup, it is mostly fructose and glucose. Honeys vary in their concentration of antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients depending on the bees and plants from which they are made.
Teaspoon for teaspoon, honey and granulated sugar are comparable in calories and carbohydrates: 21 calories and 4.5 grams carbohydrate per teaspoon for honey, and 15 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrate for sugar. The glycemic index of honey also can vary greatly depending on its source.
That said, honey has a deeper sweetness than table sugar, so if you use less because of it, you're likely consuming fewer calories (at least from sugar)—so, that's something.
#3. Honey can be substituted for sugar in most baked goods, although it will affect the texture.
To use honey in place of 1 cup of sugar, use 2 tablespoons less than 1 cup of honey, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, and reduce another liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. The flavor and texture will not be quite the same, but hey, you may like your new version better than the original recipe. Can't hurt to give it a try. Start with a mild flavored honey, and be aware that because of its viscous nature, honey is apt to make your baked goods more moist and dense.
#4. Similarly, sugar can be substituted for honey.
Replace 1 cup of honey with 1 1/4 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of additional liquid. The liquid can be water or a liquid that is already called for in the recipe. Again, the flavor and texture won't be quite the same as it would be made with honey (obviously), but that doesn't mean you won't like the result! If you want to get the texture a little closer to the original recipe's results, use 1/2 cup of sugar plus 3/4 cup corn syrup.
#5. Crystallized honey does not equal bad honey.
If your honey is firm and has white in it, it is not an indication of spoilage, age, or impurity--it has simply crystallized. This happens when sugar is exposed to oxygen. Heat it gently and it will turn back into the golden liquid it once was.
Just be sure to be gentle, because if you heat the honey too vigorously, it will take on a scorched flavor. One way to go about this is by placing the jar of honey in a pot of hot water (not over direct heat on the stove), scoop the honey into a microwave safe bowl and, on your microwave's lowest setting, warm it only to the point where it is slightly melted around the edges; let the honey stand at room temperature to complete the process.
#6. Honey should be stored at room temperature.
The best place to store honey is a cool, dry cupboard or pantry shelf. Never, ever keep honey in the refrigerator--it will only speed up the crystallization of the honey.
#7. Cooking spray is the best-kept secret when measuring honey.
For easy cleanup when measuring honey, lightly coat the measuring cup or spoon with cooking spray before adding the honey. When you add the honey to the other ingredients, it slides easily off the spoon, and you're not left with a sticky mess.