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A Taste of Honey

When we first moved to the Oregon countryside over 20 years ago, one of the first things we did was to set up our own bee hives. But harvesting our own honey for use in baking and marinades was not our only goal. The bees that produce the honey were an essential player in growing our fruits, veggies, and nuts.

It may surprise you to know that bees pollinate 80 percent of flowering crops in the United States alone. They are crucial for pollinating the flowers that develop into food plants for humans as well as wildlife. We simply could not exist without bees. The service bees provide is worth a fortune in itself, but the honey they produce is pure gold.

Three key players are involved in the production of honey: the honeybee, flower nectar, and enzymes. When bees pollinate flowers, they collect nectar–which mixes with their digestive enzymes–and then deposit it in the honeycomb back in the hive. The worker bees inside the hive then fan their wings to provide ventilation across the honeycomb, which removes excess moisture from the nectar. The end result is a sweet, easily digestible food known as honey.

This natural bee byproduct is not only treasured as one of nature’s culinary wonders, but it also contains a swarm of nutrients and beneficial enzymes. And even though the way in which honeybees make honey is the same, not all honey tastes the same. The flavor depends on the floral nectar source that was gathered by the honeybees before the honey was harvested. Depending on the flower source, the flavor can range from delicately mild or fragrantly fruity, to distinctively bold.

Color can also vary, ranging from nearly clear to a midnight amber. The lighter the color, the milder the flavor. Honey that is dark in color is stronger in flavor and therefore more intense. But you can use this to your advantage by using lighter colored honeys, like clover (which can vary in color) or fireweed, for baking, cooking or table use.

Golden colored honeys–such as blackberry, mesquite and orange blossom–are especially prized for baking, sauces and marinades, though they are generally a very tasty multi-purpose honey.

Some of the darker colored honeys are valued for medicinal use, but buckwheat, avocado, poison oak and others that lean more toward an earthy or molasses-like flavor make a tasty accompaniment to cheeses, breads and meat marinades, or as a tasty topping over hot cereals or pancakes.

As for me, blackberry, mesquite, fireweed and buckwheat are a few of my favorites, though I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted a honey that I didn’t like. And I’ve never looked at bees in the same way since, decades ago, I became aware of the honey-making process and how essential bees are to our food crops and survival. That said, I leave you with this “food for thought”: The next time you head out to your local Kmart to buy vegetable starts, berry bushes or any flowering plant, be sure to pick up a jar or two of honey.

Honey Tips

- Store honey in an airtight container at room temperature in the pantry or other dry location. Do not store honey in the refrigerator, and never add water to honey in the container.

- If your honey has crystallized, place the jar in a pan of hot water and stir until the crystals dissolve.

- Keep honey from sticking to your measuring cup or spoon by coating the utensil with a non-stick cooking spray beforehand.

- When substituting honey for sugar in baked goods, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. And for every cup of honey used, reduce the amount of liquid by 1/4 cup.

- Never feed honey in any form to infants younger than 12 months because of the risk of infant botulism.

Honey-Mustard Chicken

Any light or medium colored honey works well with this sauce, or try a full-bodied honey like buckwheat. I like to use a fruit-based honey, such as blackberry or blueberry.

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup pineapple juice

2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon red chili pepper

3 pounds chicken, cut into serving pieces

Salt and pepper, to taste

Make sauce by combining the honey, pineapple juice, mustard, butter, ginger, cumin, and red chili pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

Place chicken in a 13 x 9 inch oven-proof pan. Season with salt and pepper. Pour honey-mustard sauce over chicken and bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until meat is no longer pink. Baste occasionally with the honey-mustard sauce as the chicken bakes.

Remove chicken pieces from pan and arrange on a serving dish. Pour remaining honey-mustard sauce from pan over chicken. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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  1. I never realized there were so many different types of honey. I think I grew up on clover but would love to try the blackberry. Thanks for another enlightening piece!

  2. My sister-in-law believes honey is a cure all! This summer, one of my son's had a pretty bad rug burn (from a bouncy house place!). She suggested we cover it with honey and put a band-aid over it. The next day it was almost completely gone!

    1. In response to SHC-JulieK

      There have been many studies of using honey for wounds, including bed sores. And it's proven to be quite effective, especially the darker honeys--again, high levels of antioxidants.

  3. Yes indeed, THANKS KRIS ! And I agree, Wendy - that is a very nice recipe !

    One question... I use a lot of honey, and I get most of it from approx. 25 miles from my home. And the rest is from any and every store known to man, and from all over the nation. Is it true that I benefit best from local-only honey from my area, or is this not necessary ?

    1. In response to yobarps

      It's true that the best benefits in dealing with seasonal allergies is local honey--that is if your only allergies are to local plants. If I visit another town or state at the height of their allergy season, my allergies flair up as well. And these are plants that are not in my local area. That said, honey in general offers many healthy benefits, and the darker the honey, the more antioxidants the honey contains.

  4. Great tip Kris - - If your honey has crystallized, place the jar in a pan of hot water and stir until the crystals dissolve.I had no idea what to do when this happens!

    We have also been using the darker honey for years especially during the cold season. It is really soothing for coughs and sore throats.

    Thank you for the recipe! I am adding it to my cookbook to give a try! :-)

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