Honey is an ancient food and has been consumed by man since antiquity. Bees and honey are inextricably entwined with the history of man and mentioned in some of the oldest literature of the world.
Once believed to fall from heaven onto flowers and then collected by bees, both honey and bees were long associated with the divine. Honey and honey wine (mead) were considered “food of the gods” (divine food which conferred immortality) and at various times were offered as tribute, currency and medicine as well as food. Honey has been used in ceremonies from birth to weddings, to burial. Mead is thought to pre-date beer as the oldest alcoholic beverage consumed by man.
Ancient Greeks enjoyed cheesecakes “steeped in honey.” The Romans, Gauls, Celts and many other cultures ate honey cakes and likely countless other honey-based dishes now lost to time.
Throughout history honey has been thought to bring health, happiness and good fortune to those who consume it.
Honey keeps indefinitely in tight-sealed jars and has been discovered in Egyptian tombs for the “journey to the afterlife,” reportedly still edible.
Honey is a low acidic, anti-bacterial gift of gooey goodness that can be used in beverages, baked goods, marinades, dressings and vinaigrettes — the list is only limited by your imagination.
Honeybees were unknown to North America, having originated in Eurasia. Introduced into the American colonies around 1638, they adapted quickly to the native flora and spread rapidly. Native Americans called honeybees “the white man’s flies” and knew if they saw honeybees, settlers weren’t far behind.
Of great benefit to the colonists, honey’s use increased after the crown levied a tax on sugar. Beeswax was used for shoe polish, lip stick, water proofing, coating for barrels and wine bottles and of course, candles. Honey-based beverages were fermented and honey ice cream soon became a favorite. Ben Franklin enjoyed eating honey on fresh baked bread, reportedly stating “Tis a sweet that doesn’t hurt the teeth.” Today there are over 300 varieties of honey in the United States, every region having distinct favorites.
Colors range from clear to light, medium and dark ambers. Buckwheat honey is popular in Pennsylvania, Orange blossom and Gall berry honey in Florida, and Basswood, Blueberry and Black Locust in Michigan, to name a few.
Sourwood and Tupelo honey are popular in the Appalachian Mountains as well as other areas of the south. Manuka honey of New Zealand is thought to be a very healthy honey and is probably the most expensive variety available.
Locally, Wildflower and Clover honey are popular in the spring while in the fall, pungent, thick Wild Aster honey is often found in hives.
Whipped honey and Comb Honey are still popular in parts of the country. Whipped honey is thick and creamy and often is spread on toast, muffins, etc.
Raw honey has the most health benefits, many people finding relief from seasonal allergies and hay fevers. Raw honey contains small amounts of pollen from the flowers worked by the bees. It also contains naturally occurring beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which are thought to help strengthen our immune systems.
Often honey sold in stores has been heat treated to clarify it to make it more attractive to the eye. This, however, destroys the health benefits of the honey. Raw honey is often cloudy and will crystalize or thicken at some point.
The heat in no way affects the health benefits of the honey, it can be used as a spread or re-liquified by placing the jar in a pan of warm water. Honey can be substituted for sugar in most recipes.
We tend to think of honey only in terms of sweets or desserts, but it can be used in savory as well as sweet dishes.
Add it to marinades, dressings, vinaigrettes, glazes and barbecue sauces. Drizzle it over toasted muffins or biscuits, use it on pancakes and waffles instead of artificially flavored hi-fructose corn syrup. Try it on your next rack of ribs or chicken on the grill. Brush it on grilled vegetables, serve it alongside fresh figs and berries on your next cheeseboard.
Lace it over room temperature sharp cheddar or your favorite cheese on crackers or French bread. It changes the flavor profile of the cheese and brings out layers of flavor previously undetected. I hope you will add this ancient, divine “food of the gods” to your pantry and enjoy it in good health.
Bon appetit, stay safe and happy cooking.