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Honey Education

8 Best Honeys for Baking & Cooking

Tea and honey is such a natural pairing (especially in the Tea & Honey store) that it's very easy for us to get in a rut of thinking about our honeys solely in relation to our teas. 

But honey is beautiful and marvelously diverse in both its flavor and its applications - from gustatory to medicinal. Using honey in cooking and baking is neither new nor particularly groundbreaking, but it is something we've gotten away from doing in modern times. Some popular, food-related honey pairings are fruit and yogurt, peanut butter toast, or on a cheeseboard - and these pairings are pretty obvious once you manage to get yourself out of the Tea & Honey mindset. But where else might we use honey, either in place of sugar or to enhance the flavor of an existing recipe?

cooking with honey - pizza and grilled fruit around a honey jar

Using Honey in Cooking & Baking

Today we're throwing popular and customary to the wind to tell you the best honeys to keep in your kitchen cabinet to use just like you would sugar, spices, and other pantry staples. 

Best Honey to Substitute for Sugar - Alfalfa Honey

Alfalfa Honey is our hands-down favorite for a sugar substitute in most recipes. Medium-bodied and sweet but buttery, Alfalfa honey will add a sweet richness to your recipes without darkening the batter or changing your original recipe's flavor profile. In fact, you might even find substituting Alfalfa honey for sugar improves your results!

Learn more about how to substitute honey for sugar in recipes >>

Best Honey for Grilling - Palmetto or Black Forest

For grill marinades, we like to recommend a darker honey like Palmetto or Black Forest. You will want a honey with a rich enough flavor profile to stand up to the grill, and we love how just a little bit of one of these honeys will deepen and round out your favorite marinade. 

Best Honey for Roasting Vegetables - Lemon Tree

Roasted veggies are a dinner-table staple, and while there's nothing wrong with just a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper, we like to take our veggie prep to the next level with a little Lemon Tree Honey

Lemon Tree honey is light with a definite citrusy or even mineral taste and pairs superbly with veggie marinades. 

Best Honey for Soups, Stews, & Savory Sauces - Acacia & Buckwheat

Wait, what? Honey in soup or tomato sauces? We promise you that grandma's secret ingredient is probably a dash of sugar she forgets to mention. Instead of adding sugar, we like to include a drizzle of Acacia or Buckwheat honey in our soups, stews, and sauces. 

Acacia honey is great for light soups and sauces, while Buckwheat honey will add even more robust and deep flavor to heavy winter soups and stews. 

Best Honey for Cocktails - Ghost Pepper or Wild Lavender

Depending on your palate, we like to recommend either spicy Ghost Pepper Infused Honey or the lightly floral Wild Lavender Honey for cocktail simple syrups. 

The Wild Lavender is particularly delightful in spring and summer gin or vodka cocktails, while Ghost Pepper provides a sweet kick to margaritas or Bloody Marys. (Hint: Ghost Pepper honey is also great in marinades, drizzled on grilled fruit, or over fried chicken!)

"shop honey for baking and cooking" superimposed over image of dripping honey

 

What is Tupelo Honey?

You most likely have heard of Tupelo honey. This famous honey has made its way into multiple pop culture references, including the 1997 movie Ulee’s Gold, a film that follows a beekeeper and his family troubles. Both the famous 1971 Van Morrison album and title track, Tupelo Honey, written in Woodstock, New York, and Tim McGraw’s song, Southern Girl, mention love interests as sweet as Tupelo honey. But what exactly is Tupelo honey? What makes it stand out among the rest? Why has it been referred to as the champagne, or the Cadillac of honey? 

Tupelo honey is the blissful result of many different aspects of nature and labor coming together during a short period of time. Together Mother Nature, geography, and skilled beekeepers come together at just the right time to yield this sweet substance. 

Geography

One common misconception is that Tupelo honey hails from the city of Tupelo, Mississippi. Tupelo honey is only commercially produced in a specific geographic region of Southern Georgia and the Florida panhandle, home to the Apalachicola River Basin. This system of  winding rivers and swamps creates the perfect environment for Nyssa ogechee, also known as the White Tupelo, Ogechee Lime, or White Gum Tupelo tree, to thrive in large numbers. The roots and bases of this tree prefer to stay submerged in water. Most years, there is a Tupelo Honey festival held in the town of Wewahitchka, Florida. This area is notorious for its Tupelo Honey production, and here, beekeepers from the surrounding area come to show off their best product. There is a bit of a rivalry between which state, Georgia or Florida, produces the best of the best when it comes to Tupelo honey.

Environmental Risks

This region and its unique ecosystem have faced environmental factors that have led to a steady decline in Tupelo honey production since the mid 1900s. The New York Times now estimates that there are less than 200 beekeepers producing commercial amounts of Tupelo honey, as of 2019. Dams built along the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and an increase in agriculture in Southwest Georgia have led to a decline in the floodplain and tributaries of the Apalachicola River. A 2006 U.S. Geological Survey Report, "Water-Level Decline in the Apalachicola River Florida from 1954 to 2004 and Effects on Floodplain Habitats”, shows the loss of 3.7 million white Ogeechee tupelo trees due to the increasing lack of floodplain water flow since 1954. Another U.S. Geological Survey Report, “Drier Forest Composition Associated With Hydrologic Change in the Apalachicola River Floodplain, Florida”, describes the loss of at least 44 percent of Ogeechee tupelo trees from 1976 to 2004. In October 2018, category 4 hurricane Micheal came through the river basin area of Florida and Georgia, and damaged beehives and Tupelo trees, throwing off the normal Spring bloom schedule and resulting in a poor harvest season. In addition to the normal threats to beehives, such as mites, pesticides, and Colony Collapse Disorder, the increasing commercialization and development along these river basins, a decrease in floodplain water levels, and other environmental factors like hurricanes, could lead to the production of Tupelo honey continuing to decrease over time.

Harvest Season

Historically, beekeepers constructed and used wooden barges to float their hives on, right in the rivers and swamps, as close as possible to Tupelo trees. In order to get their beehives on these floating barges, they had to transport their hives on boats. These days, it is more common that beekeepers use land located close to the river’s edge, and place their hives there, eliminating the extra labor of the boat to barge hive transport. Land close to the river’s edge is high in value to the beekeepers, and is either passed down through generations, or negotiated between beekeepers and landowners. The promise of a few jars of pure, fresh Tupelo honey in exchange for a few weeks of hive housing is one I, myself, would not turn down!

Beekeepers have to act right on schedule, as Tupelo trees only bloom for a few weeks between April and early May each spring. If the environmental conditions aren’t just right, and it is too windy, too dry, or too rainy, this window will be shortened. These imperfect conditions will disrupt the bees ability to collect the pollen and nectar necessary for a good harvest. Other plants and trees, such as the Black Tupelo, Ti-ti, Black Gum, and Willow bloom just before the desired Ogechee Tupelo tree, and beekeepers must make sure they empty their hives at just the right time and replace them with empty frames. The same goes for the end of the few week window, as other plants, such as Gallberry begin to bloom. The bees do not differentiate between one plant and another, and follow whatever nectar source is available at the time. It is up to the beekeeper’s perfect timing to ensure the honey harvest is truly monofloral. Vaughn Bryant, the director of palynology at Texas A&M, where he tests the exact pollen and nectar makeup of honey, says many samples people send to him believing to be Tupelo, are often Gallberry. This means the beekeeper’s timing of emptying the hives, both before and after, was off. This demonstrates the importance of environmental observance required of successful beekeepers.

Taste

Tupelo honey is unique for its high fructose to glucose ratio. Because of this ratio, raw Tupelo honey is very slow to, and rarely ever crystallizes. The higher fructose to glucose ratio also makes Tupelo honey one of the sweeter honey options. Fructose is less taxing on your body than some other forms of sugar, and less likely to result in any “sugar crash”. Fresh Tupelo honey, straight from the hive, takes on a slightly green hue, due to the green pollen of the trees. Tasting notes include at first, a touch of cinnamon, then jasmine or citrus, before opening to a light and buttery sweet finish. We suggest trying it paired with a lightly oxidized oolong tea, such as Nantou Four Seasons, our June Tea of the Month. Or try it as a sweetener in our summer tea "sangria" recipes!

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How to Substitute Honey for Sugar in Baking

Sugar has a bit of a complicated socio-political history, and its reputation has only gotten more complicated in recent years with studies linking sugar consumption to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. 

So, it should come as no surprise that lots of us are looking for other alternative sweeteners like honey or maple syrup to flavor our cookies, cakes, tea, and coffee. 

Honey is an excellent and much healthier substitute for sugar in baked goods and cooking, but swapping honey for sugar is not without its challenges. Read on for our recommendations on how to make your favorite recipes with honey instead of sugar!

 baking with honey - a rustic baking scene featuring a bowl with flour, eggs, honey, and other ingredients in unmarked jars for baking

How to Substitute Honey for Sugar in Baking or Cooking

There is no magic ratio for substituting honey for sugar because they are not equivalent ingredients (honey is a liquid while sugar is dry; honey is sweeter than sugar, etc.), but as a general rule use 1/2-2/3 cup of honey for every 1 cup of sugar... then follow the guidelines below to make sure your recipe still rises and doesn't burn!

Rules for Swapping Honey for Sugar in Baking and Cooking

1. Choose your honey wisely.

Anyone who's spent time doing the rounds in our honey room knows that honey comes in all sorts of colors and flavors. From our light and delicate Acacia honeys to the rich and dark Black Forest, each honey has its own character and flavor profile.

When baking or cooking with honey, it's important to take things like color and flavor into account. Just like you probably wouldn't sub brown sugar for granulated sugar, you might not want to sub a dark honey like Buckwheat in a recipe where the honey's robust and molasses-like flavor will overpower the other ingredients or make your batter oddly dark.

For everyday substitutions, we love the sweet and buttery flavor of our Alfalfa honey. Some quick breads like banana or zucchini bread might benefit from using Black Forest or Buckwheat honeys, but we recommend starting lighter and working your way around the color spectrum until you find your perfect fit!

2. Honey is much sweeter than sugar, so use 1/2 - 2/3 cup honey for every cup of sugar in your recipe. 

Because honey is sweeter than sugar, you might not want to substitute at a 1-1 ratio (even though you can up to one cup). We recommend experimenting with a ratio of 1/2 - 2/3 cups honey to 1 cup sugar. 

It's also worth noting here that a lot of American recipes tend to call for more sugar than they actually need, so don't be afraid to err on the low side with the sweetener!

3. Honey is a liquid ingredient, so you will need to adjust other liquid measurements.

Generally, you should subtract 1/4 total from your liquid ingredients for every cup of honey. Make sure you do this evenly, as baking is quite a bit like chemistry and things like fat content really matter!

4. Honey burns at a lower temperature than sugar, so don't forget to adjust your oven temp!

We recommend lowering your oven temp by about 25 degrees F when baking with honey. This will keep your baked good from getting too dark before it's finished baking through.

5. Add extra baking soda, even if it's already in the recipe. Trust us.

Adding 1/4 tsp of baking soda for every cup of honey will help balance the flavor, and because honey is acidic the baking soda-acid reaction will add a nice rise to your baked good!

6. Make your measuring cups and spoons non-stick.

Honey is very sticky, so using some crisco or oil to make your measuring tools non-stick is very helpful in the baking process!

Now it's up to you to get baking - share your successes and failures with us on Instagram, Facebook, or via email

 Click through CTA with "Shop Honey for Baking" Superimposed over image of dripping honey

 

 

The Health Benefits of Dark Honey

Look closely inside any bee hive, and you will find an army of bees working in unison to create a sweet, sweet thing: honey. Not only is honey a wonderful natural sweetener, there are also some amazing health benefits that can be gained from incorporating raw honey into your diet. While all honeys contain healthy minerals and antioxidants, these health benefits can be found in higher concentrations in certain dark honeys. Similarly to other goods, such as maple syrup, honey is classified by the USDA into different categories depending on color. These categories are: water white, extra white, white, extra light amber, light amber, amber and dark amber. The classification of honey color is measured using a tool called the Pfund Grader. A variety of factors contribute to the vast color variety of honeys available throughout the world. 

Photos by Kurt Wiegand

What is Dark Honey?

In order to produce a certain type of honey, beekeepers position their beehives in areas that contain a high concentration of plants the bees are intended to pollinate. While there is no saying exactly where a bee goes, and exactly what it chooses to gather nectar and pollen from, they generally remain within about a four mile radius when pollinating. This is how we get monofloral honey, or honey that contains over a certain percent sample of represented pollen. Certain plants that the bees pollinate have darker pollen and nectar, and contain different minerals in higher amounts that contribute to the darker color of the honey. Beekeepers will find the honey they harvest will be different colors in different seasons, based on what plants are in bloom and when. Honey that also remains inside of honeycomb for longer periods of time than other honeys can become darker in color, due to some oxidation. These combinations of factors contribute to the wide spectrum of honey color gradient that can be found in the world.

Is Dark Honey Healthier?

Raw honey in general has lots of health benefits. Raw honey is naturally antimicrobial, and contains minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants. Studies have also shown that some raw honey contains Lactobacillus probiotics (Shin H.S, 2005). However, darker honeys have been shown to contain higher amounts of these antioxidants, minerals, and enzymes. Lighter honeys have been recorded to contain about a 0.04% mineral content, when some darker honeys have been recorded to contain closer to 0.20% (Solayman, Md, 2015). Research seems to conclude that the minerals and antioxidants found in honey have a positive correlation, meaning darker honey has higher amounts of both. Minerals found in honey come from the environment and soil, and then into the plants that bees pollinate. Trace minerals are important to human health, and are needed for body function. Antioxidants are important to our health because they help our bodies fight free radicals, which can cause harm if they become too prevalent in our bodies. Antioxidants prevalent in higher concentrations in darker honeys include flavonoids, phenolic acids, and enzymes. Antioxidant and mineral content found in honey can be tested by measuring the electrical conductivity of a honey sample. Pretty neat!


Our Dark Honeys

 Sourwood

Sourwood honey is on the lighter side of our darker honeys, falling in the light amber category. This domestic honey comes from sourwood trees, growing in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and into Georgia. These trees bloom only for about three weeks, and produce high amounts of nectar, making them a highly desirable stop to honeybees! The pollen from the sourwood trees can also be an allergen to some, and it is said that regular consumption of raw sourwood honey can help folks ease these allergy symptoms. This honey has tasting notes of caramel, butter, and a touch of a spice or star anise in the aftertaste. A popular drink among farmers in the Appalachian region is the “switchel”, also known as the haymaker’s punch. This usually consists of a mix of ginger, apple cider vinegar, seltzer water, and sourwood honey. It can help ease stomach pain and be a natural refreshing source of electrolytes on a hot day, offering just some of benefits of honey and apple cider vinegar when working together. You can also use sourwood honey in gingerbread recipes, biscuits, as a pork glaze, or in black tea


Palmetto

The next darkest honey in our collection is Palmetto, falling into the amber category. This honey comes from saw palmetto trees. These slow-growing trees grow in the south, including Florida, where our Palmetto honey originates. Bees do not pollinate them until they are mature enough to produce enough nectar, or closer to 100 years old! This honey is harder to find and a beautiful result of nature working together over time. It has been said to rival the health benefits of manuka honey, since it is rich in similar enzymes, antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds. Palmetto honey has a rich, sweet, and smoky flavor with light citrus and wood notes. We think it tastes almost like a toasted marshmallow, and recommend trying it with a smokier tea, like Lapsang Souchong or Russian Caravan.


Black Forest

Getting into the darker honey category of dark amber, we have our Spanish Black Forest honey. This unique honey does not come from the usual blossom nectar and pollen of a plant alone, but also from the help of some of our little friends, the aphids! Aphids and other plant sucking insects feed on trees, leaves, and sap to get their required nutrients. They need to work their way through lots of plant matter, which contains water, sugar, and amino acids, in order to get the right amount to keep them energized. The waste product that they don’t need is what we know as honeydew. They expel this sweet substance onto nearby leaves and branches in large quantities, where it is then utilized by other insects, like honey bees and ants. Because the honeydew is plant matter processed through the digestive system of the aphid, combined with some other pollen and nectar sources, and then processed by honeybees, it contains extra minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants than many other honeys. Honeydew honey is also said to be higher in certain oligosaccharides, or prebiotics that can have a beneficial effect on gut bacteria and digestion. We recommend trying honeydew honeys like our Spanish Black Forest over toast with eggs sprinkled with pepper and turmeric, or in rich earthy aged teas


Buckwheat

Buckwheat is our darkest honey, falling into the dark amber category. Buckwheat flowers grow in a variety of climates and can be found in different parts of the world, and ours comes from Washington state. A University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign study showed that honey made from the pollen and nectar of buckwheat flowers can have 20 times the antioxidant value of lighter honeys, such as sage honey. It is also said to be a natural intestinal health aid, as studies have shown it supports the growth of the good Bifidobacteria and restricts the growth of bad gut bacteria (Jiang et al, 2020). This honey is earthy, rich, and comparable to molasses. It pairs wonderfully with sharp cheeses, as a syrup substitute over breakfast, or as a marinade for barbecue. It also pairs nicely with rooibos based teas, like Saratoga Red Chai.

Overall, raw honey is an excellent and proven healthful alternative to other sweeteners. Buzz on over to our monofloral page to explore these dark honeys for yourself, and try them in your everyday routine, or in exciting new recipes. 


Resources and further reading:

Carbohydrate composition of honey from different floral sources and their influence on growth of selected intestinal bacteria: An in vitro comparison. Shin H.S; Ustunol Z. Food Res Int 38:721-728, 2005.

Honey  with High Levels of Antioxidants Can Provide Protection to Healthy Human Subjects. Derek D. Schramm; Malina Karim; Heather R. Schrader; Roberta R. Holt; Marcia Cardetti; and Carl L. Keen Departments of Nutrition and Internal Medicine at the University of California. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2003, 51 (6), pp 1732–1735

Jiang L;Xie M;Chen G;Qiao J;Zhang H;Zeng X; “Phenolics and Carbohydrates in Buckwheat Honey Regulate the Human Intestinal Microbiota.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 

Solayman, Md., et al. “Physicochemical Properties, Minerals, Trace Elements, and Heavy Metals in Honey of Different Origins: A Comprehensive Review.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, vol. 15, no. 1, 2015, pp. 219–233., 

Terrab, Anass, et al. “Mineral Content and Electrical Conductivity of the Honeys Produced in Northwest Morocco and Their Contribution to the Characterisation of Unifloral Honeys.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 83, no. 7, 2003, pp. 637–643., 

University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign. (1998, July 8). Dark Honey Has More Illness-Fighting Agents Than Light Honey. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 21, 2021