The secret to cooking with honey is actually NOT cooking with honey.
While often compared to sugar because it can be used as a sweetener, raw honey is so much more than a sweet additive.
Did you know that, unlike sugar, honey is a whole food in and of itself that packs a punch of nutrients, antioxidants, and pathogen-fighting properties? See Sugar Vs Honey for a look at how the two compare.
Not only that, but there are hundreds of honey varieties, as many as the flowers it’s made from, that range in texture, color, flavor, and aroma, so you can really be creative in the kitchen with this superfood.
There is a catch, though...
While honey is an extremely nutritious and versatile whole food that tastes delicious on its own or paired with complementary flavors, it has to be raw to be good for you. “Raw” means both uncooked and unprocessed.
In addition, one very apparent distinguishing characteristic of raw honey is that it crystalizes or granulates, so it changes from a liquid into more of a solid state over time. That’s one way to know for sure you’ve got raw honey, the healthy honey, on your shelves.
You don’t like the way it looks? You’re not alone.
And that’s why most honey is processed… to make it look better for the consumer. But there's a very simple way to turn it back into the more appealing flowing state while still maintaining the properties of raw honey.
Just heat it very slightly and slowly in a pan with a little bit of water. The key words are “slightly” and “slowly.” The nutritional value of honey is lost if it is heated over 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you do decide to use honey in cooking or baking just for the taste or consistency that it provides (or your recipe calls for it), at that point, there’s no reason to specifically use raw honey. Processed honey has already been heated past the healthy-honey temperature, so its nutrients have already been destroyed.
At HoneyShifts, we only feature honey recipes that will make you healthier, which means no cooking with honey here.
But there are plenty of tasty and tasteful ways to include honey in your meals and drinks while keeping it healthy.
And don’t forget that a spoonful of raw honey all by itself makes a sweet and nutritious snack or dessert.
So you don’t necessarily have to pair honey with something, but here are some suggestions for doing so. A general rule of thumb to keep in mind… darker honey shades correspond with more antioxidants and healthier honey.
Acacia honey is very light colored, almost transparent, and delicately but slightly acidic. It comes from the bean/legume family. We’ve written about the fact that all raw honey is healthy, but some types are healthier than others in terms of nutritional make-up. Acacia honey is one of those generally healthier honey varieties.
What are the benefits of acacia honey? It comes in lower on the glycemic index, contains comparatively less pollen, meaning it doesn’t pose a risk for allergic reactions, and remains in a flowing, liquid state longer compared to other honey varieties. What’s the best way to enjoy it? Acacia honey contrasts nicely with bold-flavored cheeses, such as gorgonzola. For the kids, serve it over fruit, yogurt, or fresh mozzarella for a light, healthy meal or snack.
The alfalfa flower is a bright purple, but alfalfa honey is very pale-colored and doesn’t taste as sweet as many other types of honey. Alfalfa honey works well in vinaigrettes and salad dressings because its flavor is delicate with a very slight, natural spiciness to it. If you’re pairing alfalfa honey with cheeses, consider brie as an option.
Basswood is described as full-bodied and zesty, almost minty if it’s mixed with other milder honey flavors. This one makes a nice addition to salad dressings and vinaigrettes, as well as earl gray tea. In keeping with our theme of not cooking with honey, don't add honey to boiling tea but only to warm or iced tea.
Beechwood is strong and bold, both in taste and hue. This type of honey can liven up a simple smoothie or sweeten up tarter-tasting fruits or unsweetened pancakes.
Buckwheat is another one of the more recognized and popular honey varieties and among the darkest in color, meaning it is antioxidant-rich and more medicinal in quality. The flavor and smell of this honey is not wishy-washy but very strong, inspiring strong like or dislike. So make sure you try it before you buy it.
Use this one as a maple syrup substitute to pour over pancakes, waffles, and crepes or as part of a marinade recipe since it's strong enough to match the flavors of gamey meats. As far as pairing goes, you can contrast it with a very delicate food or wine or match it with something pungent, such as gorgonzola or blue cheese.
As the name suggests, chestnut honey’s flavor is nutty and spicy with a bitter aftertaste. Suggested pairings include parmesan cheese or chocolate.
Clover honey health benefits are sought after, and this type of honey is often referred to as a table honey to be used every day, so we’re all about that at HoneyShifts! Clover honey is delicately tangy with a slightly sour aftertaste and it crystalizes easily.
Drizzle it over yogurt, cheeses, or desserts, include it alone or mixed with mustard as a dipping sauce for vegetables or meat. Or mix it in your favorite warm or cold beverage. Adding raw honey to boiling water or cooking with honey destroys the beneficial properties of raw honey.
Dandelion honey is dark amber, meaning it’s higher on the antioxidant-content scale, and no surprise that it smells like dandelions. Your best bet for this one is to eat alone as a pick-me-up bite or healthy mini-dessert. Great for an after-school snack!
Eucalyptus honey varieties are all mildly sweet and some can taste slightly like mint or menthol. This one is perfect to spread on hearty bread, toast, or crackers or even for a slightly minty ice cream drizzle.
Smooth, mild, fruity, and buttery, are some words to describe firewood honey, which makes a nice addition to garnish gourmet meals such as barbecued or smoked meat or fish.
Heather honey is a dark amber color, antioxidant-rich, with a slightly bitter aftertaste of burnt caramel. In addition to more concentrated medicinal traits, heather honey has a higher protein content than most other honey varieties.
What does it go well with? Strong flavors like ham, lamb, more flavorful seafood, extra-spicy dishes, and strong, black coffee.
While it comes from the nectar of lavender flowers, the color of lavender honey is light and slightly tinged yellow. On the sweetness scale, it's right in the middle with no bitterness at all but a hint of acidity with a fruity and floral taste and a thick but spreadable texture. Slather it on bread or toast, drizzle it on pancakes or ice cream, or pair it with soft cheeses like Camembert or Brie.
Macadamia Nut Blossom Honey
Macadamia nut blossom honey is deep amber in color and has a distinctive, sophisticated aroma and a very subtle nutty flavor. Include it in anything that would be enhanced with a hint of nuttiness, such as fruit and vegetable salads, ice-cream, and some types of tea. It also contributes deliciously to glazes for grilled or broiled chicken or meats.
HoneyShifts has a whole section dedicated to manuka honey and its extra-strength therapeutic qualities. While it is sweet like other types of honey, much of the focus on manuka honey is for medicinal and topical uses such as wound-healing, so it’s not considered as frequently in terms of cooking with honey.
Rosemary honey is pale in color and herbaceous in flavor, so it contributes perfectly to salad dressings and sauces or dips, and it mixes well with lemon and olive oil for marinades. It can also act as a zingy additive to coffee or tea or dripped over desserts like brownies or ice cream.
Sage honey is a light, golden amber color and slower to crystalize than many other honey varieties. Use it in warm tea, coffee, or sprinkled over salads, fruit, or oatmeal. Sage honey is also good for mead, a honey-sweet and fizzy alcoholic drink which you can make yourself.
The color of sourwood honey ranges from light to medium amber and its flavor is gingery with a subtle but lingering caramel or buttery flavor. Use this alone on toast, biscuits, or bread. Its flavor makes butter unnecessary. Good to know if you’re counting calories!
Sunflower honey is lighter in color with a fresh, herb-filled, and citrus-like flavor and smell, crystalizes easier than other honey types, and is on the healthier side as far as raw honey health benefits go.
One very unique and appealing characteristic about sunflower honey, as reported by Honeypedia, is that it is not affected by pesticides or pollutants.
If you’re looking for a less sweet and more savory option in honey, this is it. The taste of sunflower honey goes well on hearty breads and toast such as rye or multigrain.
HoneyShifts is a brand-new website. While we’re passionate about the world of honey, we are still learning, so we haven’t tried most of the honey varieties listed on this Cooking with Honey page… yet. The websites referenced for information include: