Honey – how sweet it is

Honey is naturally produced by bees from a range of different flowers, creating a variety of flavours and colours. It is a traditional sweetener, dating back thousands of years. In Australia the month of May is set aside to celebrate this natural wonder.

Honey alongside a piece of honeycomb

Australian Honey

The honeybee is not native to Australia. It was introduced to Australia in 1820, from England. Since then, bees from Italy, Yugoslavia and Northern America have been successfully established.

Australia has the widest variety of honey due to our diverse flora. Popular ones include:

  • Blue Gum
  • Red Gum
  • Stringy Bark
  • Leatherwood
  • Yellow Box

How It’s Made

The honeybee is the essential ingredient. Bees collect nectar and pollen from the flowers. The nectar’s moisture content is reduced in the hive by the bees to form honey. The pollen is mixed with nectar to feed young bees. The nectar and pollen is also food for adult bees.

Beekeepers check their hives regularly and remove the honeycomb once it is full. Gentle processes of extraction ensure that the honeycomb is not damaged so it can be returned to the hive. It takes about 300 bees 3 weeks to produce 450g of honey. There are 40,000 bees in an average hive (Australian Honeybee Industry Council).

Once the honey is extracted from the honeycomb, it is filtered to remove wax particles. Some processing methods use heat, up to 60 degrees Celsius, which is called pasteurisation, where as others use only the cold filtration process. There is no standard definition of ‘raw’ honey in Australia, so whilst you might believe that your product hasn’t been heated, this is not necessarily so.

Nutritional Features

Energy

Sucrose, table sugar, is made up of glucose and fructose. Honey also contains glucose and fructose. Table sugar is 100% sugars, where as honey is about 75% sugars and 25% water. This means on a weight comparison honey has less kilojoules or calories than table sugar, but we don’t usually weigh out our sweetener. We usually use a teaspoon or tablespoon as a measure, so honey provides more kilojoules than sugar because of its higher density.

1g white sugar provides 17kJ and for honey 14kJ

Based on Australian utensils:

SweetenerTeaspoon (5ml)Tablespoon (20ml)
Honey7g = 98kJ28g = 398kJ
Sugar4g = 68kJ16g = 272kJ

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI), is a measure of how quickly sugar from food is digested and absorbed into our blood. Lower GI eating patterns have a number of health benefits.

The GI of sugar is 65, where as that for honey ranges 35–64. Honey varieties that contain more fructose, compared with glucose, have a lower GI. For example Yellow Box has 46% fructose and a GI of 35 and Iron Bark 34% fructose with a GI of 48. GI values are from University of Sydney.

Other Nutritional Features

Honey contains a range of plant compounds, which have antioxidant and antibacterial qualities, and further research is required to assess the health benefits of these.

Eastern Nutrition

As expected, honey is categorised as a ‘sweet’ food that contributes to the body’s QI (energy). It is believed to improve blood circulation and help with the removal of toxins from the body. In Ayurveda, it is the preferred sweetener for people with Vata and Kapha imbalances, and is suitable in moderate amounts for people with Pitta. White sugar is not recommended in either Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Traditional uses:

  1. Added with lemon in warm water to sooth a sore throat.
  2. Help relieve constipation.
  3. Applied to the skin to assist the healing of wounds, burns and ulcers.

Savour It

Honey is a natural sweetener that offers antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Compared to table sugar, it requires less processing. It is my preferred sweetener due to its flavour. I also like the fact that it is less processed. I am not concerned that a teaspoon of honey has more kilojoules compared to table sugar. However, consider it an occasional ingredient to savour in your tea, with your breakfast or your favourite dish. Enjoy it mindfully.

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