Honey: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Honey is a natural sweetener made by bees, prized not only for its delicious taste and versatility in cooking but also for its potential health benefits.

What is Honey?

Honey is a sweet and viscous natural substance produced by honeybees. Bees make honey by collecting nectar from flowers with their long tongues and storing it in a special "honey stomach." Once back at the hive, the bees regurgitate the nectar and pass it to other worker bees who chew it to break down the complex sugars and enzymes, before depositing it into the honeycomb cells. The bees then fan their wings over the nectar to evaporate the moisture and create a thick, sticky substance that we know as honey. The honey is then sealed in the comb with beeswax and stored for future consumption by the hive. Honey is used to sweeten foods and beverages for humans. Honey has some health benefits but should be consumed in moderation due to the sugar content.

Is Honey Good For You?

Honey does have some health properties that are good, although due to the sugar content should not be consumed in large amounts.

6 Health Benefits Of Honey

  1. Honey contains antioxidants
  2. Honey is a natural antibacterial agent
  3. Honey is a natural antimicrobial agent and therefore has been used to clean wounds
  4. Honey has been found to be an effective cough suppressant for children
  5. Some research suggests that honey may have anti-tumor properties
  6. Manuka honey (a raw honey) has been found to kill common bacteria, including: E. coli (found in food), Staph aureus (can cause skin infections), H. pylori (bacteria that causes stomach ulcers)

History, Background, and General Facts about Honey

  • The earliest record of humans keeping beehives was in Cairo in 2400 BC. The earliest beekeepers made hives from old logs or tree trunks to mimic wild hives
  • Bees are often seen in Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • Ancient Egyptians used honey as a sweetener, as a gift to their gods in the form of honey cakes, and as an ingredient in embalming fluid
  • The Greeks also offered honey cakes to the gods and used it medicinally
  • The Romans also used honey as a gift to the gods and incorporated it into cooking. Beekeeping was popular throughout the Roman empire
  • Honey and beeswax production increased in the Christian world because of the need for candles in churches
  • Lorenzo Langstroth, in the 19th century, developed the collateral hive, allowing the combs to be lifted out, having enough space between each comb so they didn’t stick together

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Honey?

  • Italian - Struffoli Honey Balls
  • Greek - Melopita (honey cake), baklava
  • Moroccan - tagines
  • Middle Eastern - halvah (honey sesame candy)
  • French - duck confit

What Is The Best Way To Store Honey?

The best way to store honey is in a cool, dry place away from heat and sunlight, such as a pantry or cabinet.

What Are The Different Types Of Honey?

  • Raw honey - honey in its most natural form that hasn’t been pasteurized
  • Pasteurized honey - honey that has gone through a heating process to kill bacteria and make honey more pourable
  • Manuka honey - a raw honey made by Australian and New Zealand bees that pollinate the native tea tree bush. The honey is said to have medicinal qualities  
  • Floral varieties (the variety of flower that the bees retrieve nectar from)
    • Acacia honey
    • Buckwheat honey
    • Clover honey
    • Linden honey
    • Wildflower honey
    • Eucalyptus honey

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Honey

Raw honey is generally safe to consume unless allergic to bee pollen.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), infants under 1 year old should not consume honey because of risk of botulism.

What Is The Best Substitute For Honey If I Don't Have Any?

If you don't have honey available or need a substitute for it in a recipe, there are a few alternatives you can consider. However, keep in mind that honey has a distinct flavor and sweetness, so finding an exact replacement can be challenging. Here are some options:

  1. Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is a popular substitute for honey in many recipes. It provides a similar level of sweetness and a rich, caramel-like flavor. Maple syrup works well in baking, dressings, marinades, and sweetening beverages. However, note that maple syrup has its own unique taste, so it may alter the overall flavor of the dish.

  2. Agave Nectar: Agave nectar is another alternative to honey that offers a similar level of sweetness. It is a liquid sweetener derived from the agave plant and has a mild and neutral flavor. Agave nectar can be used in baking, beverages, dressings, and sauces. Keep in mind that agave nectar is sweeter than honey, so adjust the quantity accordingly.

  3. Molasses: Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar refining process and has a deep, robust flavor. Although it doesn't have the same sweetness as honey, it can add a rich and distinctive taste to recipes. Molasses can be used in baking, marinades, and savory dishes.


Nutrition information is for 1 tablespoon honey.