In September, we celebrated National Honey Month, and we have a lot to thank our hard-working bees for. Much of our food system is dependent on the labor honey bees provide; as honey bees search for nectar for themselves, they also collect and transfer pollen as they move from plant to plant. This process of cross-pollination is critical for our food system, as it is what actually allows the plants (that we want to eat!) to reproduce. Human or technical replication of what the bees do for us naturally is not as efficient, labor-intensive, and very expensive.
Honey bees are extremely hard-working. With a life-span ranging from just 40 to 120 days for a worker bee, they move through the various working roles in the hive with staunch dedication, exhausting themselves until their wings are ragged and their bodies collapse.
After bees collect the nectar and bring it back to their hive, they store it in capsules of the honeycomb they’ve built, and fan it until the moisture evaporates. This changes the texture into the viscous goo we know as honey, and makes the honey virtually impenetrable to microbes. Well-sealed honey has been found and deemed safe to eat after thousands of years!*
* (We will note, though, that the USDA recommends waiting to feed an infant honey until they are 12 months. There is a slight chance of raw honey containing a trace amount of botulism, but in such low amounts that it does not pose a risk to the immune systems of children above 1 year and adults.)
Honey is a great natural sweetener, and you can find different varieties that meet your tastes. Honey collected in the summertime will be more floral, while an autumn honey will generally be darker in color and more robust tasting. One tablespoon of honey has 64 calories, which is comparable to general sugar, but it does contain some trace vitamins and minerals. You can sweeten tea or coffee with it, as well as bake with it! When substituting honey for sugar in a recipe, use about ½ cup of honey for every 1 cup of sugar. Honey is very dense, and will change the texture of your recipe. Reduce the other liquids in your recipe and add an extra ½ tsp of baking soda to help balance it out.
Check out the honey options from some of our local Vermont apiaries:
- Northwoods Apiaries
- Weeping Pine Honey Farm
- Champlain Valley Apiaries
- Bobbinshop Honey
- Green Mountain Bee Farm
- Bud Shriner
- Harding Apiaries
- Heavenly Honey Apiary
- Lemonfair Honeyworks
- Black Walnut Apiary
- BTV Honey
- Ariel’s Honey Infusions
Honey tip: have you ever noticed your honey crystallizing and wondering what was wrong with it? The answer is: nothing! It is still perfectly good to eat as is. Honey is a super-saturated solution of glucose and fructose. Eventually, some of the sugars come out of solution naturally (this even occurs in the hive sometimes). Some varieties of honey and honey with pollen in it are more likely to crystallize, and the temperature of your cupboards plays a role too. If your honey has crystallized and you want to make it liquid again, simply heat a bowl of water and put the jar of honey in the water to warm up.
Looking to learn more? You can check out another one of our posts about honey here.