By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Honey is nature’s natural sweetener and since today is the last day of National Honey Month, we’re discussing everything you should know.
1. Flower nectar is first collected by bees and stored in honeycomb.
2. Second, by constantly flapping their wings, bees promote evaporation of water from the nectar, causing it to become thicker and more concentrated.
3. Bee keepers remove the honey a special frame before it goes in a special machine and then finally it is strained and bottled.
Similar to fresh juice, the raw version contains more nutrients as many of them can be destroyed by exposure to high heat during the pasteurizing process. Certain populations should not use raw honey including those with compromised immune systems and infants (infants should never have honey). When possible and when safe, choosing raw honey may help to provide more nutritional benefit than pasteurized.
The type of flower from which the nectar is collected determines the type and flavor of the honey, and there are many different types with many different flavors and colors. As a general rule, the darker the color of the honey, the more phytonutrients the honey contains.
Common Types of Honey:
Avocado: Pollen is collected from the avocado blossom and this honey is darker in color and tends to have a richer, more potent flavor. The darker color indicates more phytonutrients (similar to other plants- the richer the color the more nutrients it contains) and antioxidants too.
Buckwheat: Buckwheat honey is absolutely delicious (aren’t they all?!) and one of the more popular and easy-to-find varieties. Buckwheat honey comes from the buckwheat plant, the same plant that buckwheat the gluten-free grain comes from. This honey, like that which comes from the avocado plant is darker in color and has a much stronger taste than other and milder varieties of honey. The darker color also indicates more nutrients contained in the honey.
Blueberry: Blueberry honey comes from the blueberry bush and the flavor isn’t overly strong but may be slightly stronger than a light amber clover honey. This variety comes in a light amber and a darker amber and as always the darker amber color contains slightly more antioxidants and nutrients.
Clover: Perhaps the most widely known variety, clover honey is milder than many other types of honey and can be often found in teashops and at restaurants as a nice addition to toast, oatmeal and as a natural sweetener for almost anything-including coffee and tea. There are many different types and colors of clover honey, ranging from a very clear color that has a milder flavor to a much richer, light brown color with a slightly stronger flavor. Choosing the darker amber clover honey will usually provide more phytonutrients than the lighter colored amber clover honey.
At the end of the day sugar is sugar. Although it appears honey not only may have more potential health benefits and also may cause a slightly blunted sugar spike when compared to regular sugar, it’s important to limit added sugars altogether. Choose to use a small amount of honey as a sweetener or add small amounts of fruit or a simple fruit compote to add some natural sweetness.