Honey is an ancient food and has been consumed by humans since ancient times. Bees and honey are inextricably linked with human history and mentioned in some of the oldest literatures in the world.
It was once believed that they fell from the sky on flowers and then collected by bees, honey and bees have long been 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, including funerals. Mead is believed to predate beer as the oldest alcoholic beverage consumed by humans.
The ancient Greeks appreciated cheesecakes “steeped in honey”. The Romans, Gauls, Celts and many other cultures ate honey cakes and probably countless other honey dishes now lost in time.
Throughout history, honey has been thought to bring health, happiness, and good fortune to those who consume it.
Honey can be kept indefinitely in airtight jars and was discovered in Egyptian tombs for the “journey to the afterlife,” which is still believed to be edible.
Honey is an antibacterial, low-acid gift of gooey goodness that can be used in drinks, baked goods, marinades, salad dressings, and salad dressings – the list is only limited by your imagination.
Bees were unknown in North America, being native to Eurasia. Introduced to the American colonies around 1638, they quickly adapted to native flora and spread rapidly. Native Americans called honey bees “the flies of the white man” and knew that if they saw honey bees, the settlers were not far behind.
Of great benefit to the settlers, the use of honey increased after the crown levied a tax on sugar. Beeswax was used for shoe polish, lipstick, waterproofing, coating barrels and wine bottles and of course, candles. Honey drinks were fermented, and honey ice cream quickly became a favorite. Ben Franklin liked to eat honey on fresh bread, saying “It’s a sweet that doesn’t hurt your teeth.” Today, there are over 300 varieties of honey in the United States, with each region having distinct favorites.
Colors range from light amber to light, medium and dark amber. Buckwheat honey is popular in Pennsylvania, orange blossom and gall berry honey in Florida, and lime, blueberry and black locust in Michigan, to name a few.
Tupelo and sour wood honey is popular in the Appalachians as well as other southern regions. New Zealand Manuka honey is considered very healthy honey and is probably the most expensive variety available.
Locally, wildflower and clover honey is popular in the spring, while in the fall thick, pungent wild aster honey is often found in beehives.
Whipped honey and combed honey are still popular in some parts of the country. Whipped honey is thick and creamy and is often spread on toast, muffins, etc.
Raw honey has the most health benefits, with many people finding relief from seasonal allergies and hay fever. Raw honey contains small amounts of pollen from the flowers worked by bees. It also contains natural beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which are believed to help strengthen our immune system.
Often times, honey sold in stores has been heat treated to clarify it and make it more appealing to the eye. This, however, destroys the health benefits of honey. Raw honey is often cloudy and will crystallize or thicken at some point.
The heat does not affect the health benefits of honey in any way, it can be used as a spread or re-liquefied by placing the jar in a pot of lukewarm water. Honey can be used as a substitute for sugar in most recipes.
We tend to think of honey only in terms of sweets or desserts, but it can be used in both savory and sweet dishes.
Add it to marinades, dressings, dressings, frostings and barbecue sauces. Drizzle it on muffins or toasted cookies, use it on pancakes and waffles instead of artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup. Try it on your next rack of ribs or broiler chicken. Brush it over grilled vegetables, serve it with fresh figs and berries on your next cheese board.
Thread it over strong room temperature cheddar or your favorite cheese on crackers or French bread. It changes the flavor profile of cheese and brings out previously undetected layers of flavor. I hope you add this ancient and divine “food of the gods” to your pantry and enjoy it in good health.
Bon appétit, be careful and good food.
Eric Metcalf is a beekeeper, outdoor enthusiast, and Executive Chef of Hardin Memorial Health and Morrison Healthcare. He can be contacted at [email protected]