A Taste of Honey

Both honey and sugar sweeten foods from A to Z, but there are differences.

By Selma Roth


Honey is a natural sweetener that is most commonly sold as a liquid, although also can be found granulated or creamed (spreads like butter) or still in the honeycomb. Liquid honey is often pasteurized and filtered, but otherwise is as pure as the day it was extracted from the beehive. If you buy honey from a local beekeeper, it may not be pasteurized, which many folks prefer.

Honey’s flavors and colors differ, depending on the flowers the bees pollinate. Light colored and delicately flavored honeys include orange blossom, lavender, alfalfa, and clover. Darker and stronger tasting honeys include buckwheat, tupelo, chestnut and eucalyptus.

Honey or Sugar?

Honey can be substituted for sugar in many recipes, but it may take a little experimenting to get it right. It is about 25 percent sweeter than granulated sugar, and so if you are sweetening tea, fruit salad, or something similar, you might want to start with less honey and add it “to taste.” After some trial and error, sweetening with honey will become second nature.

Baking with honey is a little trickier and therefore it’s always a good idea to begin with a recipe that has been created for honey. In a lot of baked recipes, you can pretty much substitute honey in a one-to-one ratio up to a point. For example, if a yeast bread, muffin, or quick bread recipe calls for two tablespoons of sugar, add the same amount of honey. When amounts get higher, cut back a little on the honey.

More complex baked goods, such as cakes, need a little more tinkering. For every cup of sugar called for, use a little less than a cup of honey and also reduce the amount of liquid (water, milk, juice) by about a quarter of a cup. Honey contains water and if you don’t do this, the cake or cookie will be too moist.

Also, it’s a good idea to add about one-half teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients for every cup of honey to compensate for its acidity. Finally, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees and watch whatever you are baking carefully as it might brown more quickly than usual.

How to Store Honey

Honey will keep for a long time if properly stored. While there are stories of honey being unearthed by archeologists and still tasting sweet after thousands of years, in modern households, it keeps for about a year.

Store it at room temperature and make sure its lid is tightly screwed on. This prevents crystals from forming. The refrigerator is not the right place for it. Not only might it absorb moisture and ferment slightly, it will thicken.

If your honey does crystallize or thicken, it is easy to salvage. Set the uncovered jar in a pan of very hot water and let it warm up and liquefy. You can also heat it in the microwave for 50 or 60 seconds.

When you measure honey for cooking, first spray the measuring spoon or cup with flavorless vegetable oil. This will allow the sticky stuff to slip easily from the measuring implement and also aid in clean up.

Best Uses

In the end, honey is perhaps at its best when drizzled over hot toast or a freshly baked biscuit, used to glaze a ham, or stirred into hot tea.

It is credited with enhancing endurance and reducing muscle fatigue. It has been used to treat wounds, cuts and burns, and is well known to bring relief to sore throats.

As wonderful as honey is, it should never be given to children under the age of two. Their still-forming immune systems may not be able to fight bacteria naturally occurring in the honey. Always check with your doctor first when thinking of introducing honey to your pre-schooler.


Selma Roth writes about food and cooking techniques.