We take so much of our food supply for granted. One example that comes to mind is honey. Have you ever stopped to think about what it takes for bees to make honey and for the honey to arrive at farmers markets and grocery stores? Probably not. But honey bees deserve respect – they are truly miraculous creatures of nature. So before you go swatting and trying to kill the next bee that comes your way, consider these amazing facts about honey bees and the honey they produce.
One-third of our food supply depends on pollinators. Honey bees are the most important pollinators of many fruits, vegetables, flowers and crops. Pollination is the first essential step in a process that results in the production of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Without the honey bees’ pollination work, many crops would be reduced and some would not yield at all.
Unfortunately honey bee populations have dropped drastically in recent years because of imported parasites and diseases. Scarce bees mean lower fruit and vegetable yields. Bees now need human help to survive, so raising bees has never been more important. Research shows that the direct value of honey bee pollination to agriculture in the United States is valued at more than $14.6 billion per year in the increased yield and quality of agricultural crops.
Local honey is now being harvested. Check with local beekeepers or contact your local Cooperative Extension office (Gaston – 704.922.2119) to find a local honey source near you. Amazing facts about honey bees and the honey they produce:
Bees have been producing honey for at least 150 million years. One honey bee worker only makes 1/12th a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime. In order to produce one pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited, and the bees fly a total of 55,000 miles.
Honey bees do not die out over the winter – they feed on the honey they collected during the warmer months and wait for spring.
Honey is composed primarily of carbohydrate and water, while containing a variety of vitamins and antioxidants. One tablespoon of honey has about 64 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrate, and contains no fat, cholesterol nor sodium. Generally, darker honeys have higher antioxidant content than lighter honeys.
Honeys differ in color and flavor depending on the blossoms visited by the bees. Honey color ranges from nearly colorless to dark brown, and flavors can vary. As a general rule, lighter honey has a milder taste and darker honey is stronger. Common varieties of light honey include: alfalfa, clover, sage and sourwood; varieties of medium honey include: blueberry, dandelion and orange blossom; dark honey includes varieties, such as buckwheat and wildflower.
Honey and diabetes. It is often asked if honey is a good replacement for sugar in the diet of persons with diabetes. Keep in mind that honey has more carbohydrate and calories per tablespoon than found in granulated sugar. Since honey is sweeter than sugar, it can be substituted using smaller amounts in cooking. However, the amount of calories and carbohydrate you save with this substitution are only minimal. For individuals with diabetes, it is important to count the carbohydrate that is in honey as part of your daily eating plan.
Infant botulism. Honey should not be fed to infants less than one year of age. Honey may contain the seed-like spores of the botulism bacterium (Clostridium botulinum). Clostridium botulinum is not a disease of the honey bee, but the spores are a rare accidental contaminant transported into the hive on dust, water or pollen from the outside environment. Once the spores enter the immature digestive system of an infant, they are able to germinate and produce the actively growing stage of the bacterium. Infant botulism can cause difficulty in breathing and paralysis.
- Store honey at room temperature, in a dry place such as your kitchen counter or pantry. Storing honey in the refrigerator accelerates the honey’s crystallization. Crystallization is the natural process in which liquid in honey becomes solid. If your honey crystallizes, simply place the honey jar in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve. Another method is to place the honey in a microwave-safe container with the lid off and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until the crystals dissolve. Be careful not to boil or scorch the honey.
Honey in cooking. Honey can be substituted for sugar – 1 measure of honey is considered the sweetening equivalent of 1.25 to 1.5 measures of sugar, although the amount of added liquid must be decreased because of honey’s water content. Honey will keep breads and cakes moister than sugar will, losing water to the air more slowly, and even absorbing it on humid days. Honey slows the development of stale flavors in baked goods and warmed-over flavors in meats. Bakers can use its acidity to react with baking soda and leaven quick breads.
Substituting honey for sugar. For best results, use recipes developed for using honey. When you substitute honey for granulated sugar in recipes, begin by substituting honey for up to half of the sugar called for in the recipe. With experimentation, honey can be substituted for all the sugar in some recipes. When substituting honey for sugar in baked goods:
– Reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of honey used.
– Add about ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used.
– Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over-browning.
Helpful hint: For easy measuring and clean-up, coat measuring cup or spoon with cooking spray before adding honey. Honey is sold by weight, and a 12-ounce jar of honey will fill a standard measuring cup.
Beekeeping basics. NCCooperative Extension proudly sponsors the Gaston County Beekeepers Association (https://gaston.ces.ncsu.edu/content/gcba) which is open to anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping and honey bees. Beekeeping classes are offered in Gaston and surrounding counties. Contact your local Extension office for further information.
Linda Minges is a registered dietitian with the N.C. Cooperative Extension (gaston.ces.ncsu.edu) and can be reached for information on nutrition, food safety, and wellness at 704.922.2127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.