Welcome to Smallflower’s Ingredients Spotlight series! Here, we walk you through the benefits and characteristics of popular ingredients you’re probably seeing pop up in the products you shop for and use. Today our focus is on Honey.
Pardon the pun, but it seems like honey has been getting a lot of buzz lately. It’s always been a pantry staple, but in recent years more and more information has come to light about its various health and beauty benefits.
Humans have been using honey to our benefit for thousands of years – and not just for eating. Four thousand years ago, honey was used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat “imbalances” in the body. Some ancient Egyptian medicinal compounds have been found to contain the sweet liquid. The Ancient Greeks and even the Prophet Mohamed touted the healing properties of honey.
So what’s so great about a bear’s favorite snack? Read on and find out!
A Bit of Background
You probably know that honey is made by honey bees. Specifically, these bees are from the genus Apis. Surprisingly, they only account for about 44 of the 20,000 subspecies of bees on earth.
Honey bees convert the nectar they gather from plants and flowers into honey via a process of regurgitation and evaporation. They then store it inside the wax honeycombs of their hives. After this process, humans can extract the honey for consumption.
Thanks to the wide variety of plants and flowers bees gather nectar from, honey comes in many different varieties. The USDA grades honey based on its clarity, aroma, and flavor but not on color – and color is where it’s really at. Generally, the darker the hue, the richer in nutrients and antioxidants the honey will be.
Honey is commonly sold in two states – raw and pasteurized. Raw honey is bottled directly from the hive and can contain traces of yeast, wax, and pollen. Pasteurized honey has been heated and processed to remove these impurities.
1. Antibacterial & Antiseptic
In the lab, several experiments have suggested that honey can stop or slow the growth of some food-borne pathogens, such as e. Coli and salmonella. It has also been documented fighting certain bacteria that cause skin infections.
Because of this, there’s reason to believe that honey could help heal and treat wounds. Manuka honey is especially popular in this regard, because it has a slightly acidic pH that helps soothe pain in wounds.
Because of its antibacterial properties, honey is a popular ingredient in cosmetic products that help treat acne. Some people even use honey directly as a cleanser, to help clear out pores and prevent future breakouts.
2. Cough Suppressant
In two studies conducted on children, honey performed better than a cough suppressant (dextromethorphan) and an antihistamine (diphenhydramine) at relieving nighttime coughing.
This could be because of honey’s thick, viscous composition and soothing properties. We cough when our throat membranes are sore or irritated by foreign particles. Honey theoretically soothes and calms these agitated membranes.
3. Moisturizing & Antioxidant
Honey has the ability to hold onto water, which makes it an excellent moisturizer for skin and hair. Many people use it in face or hair masks for a boost of hydration.
Thanks to the rich variety of plants and flowers that bees gather nectar from, honey tends to be full of good nutrients and antioxidants. Raw honey especially (thanks to its unrefined nature) contains traces of B vitamins, vitamin C, and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
4. Allergy Relief?
The jury is still out on this one. Conventional wisdom has it that consuming raw honey containing nectar from allergenic plants can help inoculate the consumer against these plants. One study did find that participants responded better to honey treatment versus a placebo.
However, most allergy sufferers are allergic to wind-born pollen (such as ragweed) which are not carried by bees and turned into honey. Also, honey gets broken down by stomach acids during digestion, and likely wouldn’t trigger an immunological response.
5. Sweet as Can Be
Honey’s most popular use is in sweetening foods and baked goods. There’s evidence that using honey instead of sugar in cooking can result in a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels, which could help stabilize hunger levels.
Honey offers a host of nutrients, such as iron, calcium, phosphate, sodium chlorine, potassium, and magnesium, which make it a worthwhile addition to recipes. However, it can be more calorie- and carbohydrate-dense than regular sugar, though, so those with diabetes should keep this in mind when using.
Regardless of any health benefits, honey is a delicious addition to treats, especially sweet breads and cakes. This recipe uses apples and honey to create a deliciously semi-sweet challah.
What’s Manuka Honey?
You’ve probably been hearing a lot about this supposed superfood, but what’s so special about it?
First off, manuka honey is only harvested in New Zealand, from bees that specifically pollenate the manuka bush. It’s this plant that gives the honey its unique properties.
Manuka honey also has a higher concentration of the antibacterial elements found in other types of honey. The higher the concentration of these elements, the more useful the honey is for treating wounds, infection, and acne.
Smallflower shoppers love this shampoo, saying that it has helped them overcome dry, irritated scalps while keeping their hair soft and moisturized. A blend of pure honey, shea butter, Osum extract and aloe vera juice is responsible for the nourishing results.
If you’re searching for some awesome Chicago-native honey, look no further than Sweet Comb! Their raw, unpasteurized honey has a rich and complex flavor due to the wide range of nectar available in the Chicago area — everything from common Midwest prairie flowers to imported exotic flowers planted by city gardeners.