Cooking School – Honey
Honey is one of the oldest known natural sweeteners used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Wherever bees can be found, so too will honey. Producing honey is actually the result of a complicated set of steps performed by bees. Once the bee returns to the hive, the nectar is broken down into fructose and glucose by the bees’ digestive enzymes. Over time, the water remaining in the nectar evaporates leaving sweet honey.
The flavour of honey can change depending on the types of flowers from which the honey was gathered. For instance, nectar gathered from the flowers of the chestnut tree produces a dark, tart honey. Nectar gathered from the Acacia tree is light and mildly sweet. The most common honey found in North America is from clover. Take a look at the various types available today, and experiment to see which one you like best.
A lot more people seem to be using honey as an ingredient these days. Unlike most sweeteners, honey contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, as well as antioxidants. Honey is 100 % natural, is a rich source of carbohydrates and baked goods sweetened with honey stay moist and fresh longer than those made with sugar.
“Recipes specifically developed using honey will deliver the best results,” says Caitlin Latham, Group Marketing Manager, McCormick Canada, which operates the 50-year-old Billy Bee Honey Products Limited. “When exchanging honey for granulated sugar in recipes, substitute honey for up to half of the sugar in the recipe. Tips when substituting honey for sugar in baked goods: add about ½ teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey used; reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of honey used; and lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over-browning.”
Latham adds that coating the measuring spoon or cup with cooking oil before using honey will make clean-up fast and easy. And she notes that a common mistake is to store honey in the refrigerator, causing it to crystallize more quickly. If this happens, simply place the honey container in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve.
Honey is available in various forms.
• Crystallized honey has a granulated appearance.
• Pasteurized honey has been heated in order to destroy yeast cells. Honey that has undergone this process has a longer shelf life, but its appearance, taste and aroma have been altered.
• Raw honey has been heated to no more than 120°F. It can often be found in natural health stores.
• Strained and Ultrafiltered honey has passed through various levels of filtration until all the solids have been removed. Filtered honey is very clear.
Although honey is typically used as an ingredient in recipes or enjoyed spread on bread or drizzled over cheese, it can also be fermented into a beverage called mead (see the May ’09 issue of Tidings).