By Jessica Sanders

More than likely, there’s a bear shaped honey bottle in your cupboard. This is liquid honey, which is probably pasteurized (most grocery store honey is to prevent crystallization), and if you check the label there’s a good chance it is blended from many sources. Now go check – was I right?

This description is what most people think of when they think honey. Though always found in the kitchen; it’s usually used only here and there. On the contrary, honey is actually quite complex. There are over 30 varieties of this sweet syrupy stuff, and the more you know about it, the more you’ll want to use it.

The Many Forms of Honey

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The honey you buy at the store is in liquid form. This is the most commonly used form of honey because of its convenience: a little squeeze honey bottle allows you to mix it easily into anything you’re cooking or eating. However, there are five other forms of honey.

  • Naturally crystallized honey: Grocery store honey is often pasteurized, as this stops the crystallization process. However, crystals in honey are not a bad thing; it’s merely a natural product of glucose precipitating out of the liquid honey. If your honey granulates, just screw the cap tight and put it into hot water. Gentle heating below 115 degrees F does not destroy the natural flavor or attributes of the honey. You can scoop this out and spread it on toast.
  • Honeycomb: Though you may not think it would be appetizing, you can eat honeycomb and should try it! Crumble it on top of your salad for a sweet, crunchy bite.
  • Whipped or churned honey: Whipped honey is created by intentionally crystallizing the honey at room temperature to make it spreadable, similar to butter. In many countries, this is their staple form of honey. Mix this with mustard to create creamy honey mustard spread.
  • Cut comb honey: This is liquid honey with chunks of the comb in it, similar to crunchy peanut butter. Put a spoonful of this in your oatmeal.
  • Raw honey: This comes straight from the extractor and undergoes no processing. Raw honey contains pollen and other constituents that are not removed in the industrial heating and filtering process.  Eating raw honey may provide you with the most health benefits: it is loaded with nutrients like energizing B vitamins and immune-boosting vitamin C. You can put raw honey in tea, where it will easily dissolve.

Organic vs. Nonorganic

Now a days, everyone wants to buy organic — and for good reason. But, is organic honey actually a better choice than standard honey? Yes. While skepticism may question a 100% organic claim, it is believed that organic honey production follows very strict rules. These include regulations on where the honey can be sourced, the bee foraging area, extraction process, processing temperature and packaging.

Many honey lovers find organic to be naturally sweet and more flavorful than nonorganic varieties. To find out for yourself if organic honey is worth the price tag and the taste buds, try a side-by-side taste test of organic honey vs. commercial grade.

Honey and Your Body

Honey is a sweet addition to many meals, but how does it benefit your body? A dribble of this on your oatmeal or mixed in with your tea can have huge health benefits.

  • Medicinal: Pure honey by itself has been found to relieve cough and sore throat, thanks to its ability to stimulate the immune system rather than depress it.  When mixed with ginger, it’s believed to reduce respiratory issues, as well as indigestion, because it doesn’t ferment in the stomach. Topical burns and eczema can also be aided by a slather of honey. Honey has an antibacterial effect and inhibits the growth of many bacteria strains, including the bacteria responsible for ulcers. Manuka honey (look for the official UFMHA logo from New Zealand) is used medicinally because of its pH balance, which is rather acidic.
  • Allergies: You may have heard that eating local honey can help combat local allergies. The thinking behind this old wives’ tale is that honey acts like a vaccine, protecting allergy sufferers by slowly building up immunity to local pollen. As a bee hops from flower to flower, the bee becomes covered in pollen spores, some of which are transferred to the honey he makes. Eaten every day, a few drops of this local honey can help protect the body from local allergies. That’s the theory, anyway. However, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific evidence to back that up.
  • Skin: By itself, honey is considered a humectant, which allows the product to moisten your skin. Mix with milk to boots its antimicrobial and benefits. Honey is also food for the hair.  Try using honey combined with olive oil as a hair conditioner.
  • Workout supplement: Honey has a surprising amount of carbohydrates – 17g per tablespoon. Because of this, it’s a great product for sustaining energy before your workout. Combine it with protein after your gym session to maintain steady blood sugar levels while reducing muscle soreness and fatigue.

forms of honeyIn addition to the health benefits, buying local honey helps support local honey producers. Small bee farmers are on the front lines of helping to save our decreasing bee population right now due to extremely toxic neonicotinoids (pesticides) that are lethal to honey bees. Purchasing honey from local producers can help keep them in the fight.

There is a lot more to honey than the bear shaped bottle of it on the shelf. Whether you buy raw honey, liquid honey or want to try your hand with at using a natural honeycomb, allow yourself to take advantage of honey in all its glory. Add it to your oatmeal for flavor, or smear it on a burn to ease the pain. Whatever you do, don’t take that bottle of honey in your kitchen for granted, anymore.

What are some of your favorite types of honey?  Have you ever gone so far as to travel to taste a specific honey (or had it imported)?

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