Honey is another local product that we’re very fortunate to have a good supply of in the Creston Valley. Honey, as long as it’s kept raw and not heated to above 95 F (or above body temperature), has many health benefits. While honey is essentially a sugar and should be eaten in moderation, it does contain many other health benefits that processed white and brown sugar do not contain. If honey is heated it destroys the natural enzymes that are responsible for many of the health benefits. Even when heated, cooked in a dish or baked into something, it’s still a healthier, natural choice for a sweetener because it contains small amounts of various vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B2 and B6, iron and manganese, and because the composition of the sugars, it is better for blood sugar levels.
Honey is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal. Natural honey (made from bees that feed on flowers and not refined sugar) that is kept raw actually contains healthy bacteria, which may be why it’s such a good remedy for things like a sore throat, cough and even an upset stomach. It’s a natural remedy for many other things, and may even help people with seasonal allergies, as long as they are consuming local honey, as the bees use pollen from the flowers causing the allergies.
Honey, however, should not be fed to babies under 12 months old as it can contain spores that cause botulism, which can be life-threatening. It is safe for older children and anyone else to enjoy honey, though.
Honey should be stored in an airtight container to prevent it from absorbing any moisture. If it’s stored properly, in a sealed container and in a cool, dry place, honey can keep for a very long time as it doesn’t spoil. Eventually, the honey will crystallize, but it is easily turned back into a liquid by gently heating it, or it can be used in solid form, stirred into hot drinks or spread on toast or crackers. Honey should not be microwaved as this will heat it too much, killing enzymes and changing the flavor, but it can be warmed by setting the container in warm water until the honey liquefies (be careful not to put cold glass into hot water as it will break).
Honey is slightly sweeter than typical sugar, so when replacing sugar in recipes the amount of honey can be reduced. Keep in mind that honey is a liquid, though, so when baking, the amount of dry ingredients to liquid ingredients will need to be changed, as well.
Baked goods that contain honey also brown faster than baked goods made with different sugars and sweeteners. You can reduce this by reducing the baking temperature by 25 degrees and increasing the baking time. Keep in mind that darker honeys will have more flavor, while honey that is lighter in color will be the mildest in flavor, so some will be better for certain dishes or baked goods than others.
There has been a lot of attention put on honey lately, because of the amount of “fake” honey being sold. Some honey comes from bees that are just fed plain sugar or processed corn syrup. The resulting honey is no better than refined white sugar because that’s where it came from. This is just more reason to support local beekeepers so that you know where your honey is coming from.
While it’s still beneficial to choose honey over sugar in cooking and baking, it is best to consume some raw for the health benefits. We enjoy it stirred into plain yogurt, mixed with peanut butter or almond butter as a dip for apples and other fruit, added to smoothies and, of course, stirred into tea and drizzled (or spread) onto toast. We use it in no-bake granola bars and other treats, as well.
No-Bake Cherry Almond Granola Bars
Makes 10-12 small granola bars
3/4 C crispy cereal (look for whole grains with very little if any added sugar)
3/4 C puffed grain cereal (such as puffed wheat)
3/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/3 C roughly chopped dried cherries (or other dried fruit chopped into small pieces)
1/4 C raw honey
1/2 C natural almond butter (or natural peanut butter; for a nut free option use sunflower seed butter)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
Prepare an 8×8 pan by lightly oiling it, or just lining with wax paper.
In a bowl, mix the cereals and oats. Set aside. Warm the honey and almond butter slightly if it’s not already liquid at room temperature. Mix in the ground flax, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix very well. Press the mixture into the pan and flatten with the back of a spatula. Place in the fridge till firm, carefully remove from the pan and very carefully cut into bars. The bars may break and crumble slightly, just press back together. Wrap individually, place inside a sealable bag and store in a cool place, either the fridge or freezer.