For my next few Real Food Wednesday posts, I’m going to be focusing on some of my favorite real food staples. These are some of my kitchen standbys that give me the best value for my real food dollars.
First up? Honey.
Mmm. I have a sudden desire to bake bread, just so I can smother a hot piece of it in this stuff.
Yes, for the record, sugar and all of its relatives are definitely members of the to-be-had-in-moderation group (look for a post on this in the future). Sugar is in nearly every processed/restaurant/fast food these days, and is one of the biggest culprits in this generation’s health problems. When you’re going to go sweet, it’s best to use a natural, unprocessed sweetener (in moderation). Bypass the white sugar and head for raw honey.
Honey is one of the original traditional foods. Ancient Egyptian paintings show the beekeepers in action while their writings talk about methods of harvesting and caring for bee hives. The Bible mentions honey in numerous places, speaking of the Promised Land as “the land of milk and honey.”
Bees create honey so that they will have a source of food in cold weather, or when their access to food sources is limited. They travel for miles to collect the nectar of flowers and bring it back to their hives to store. This nectar is turned into honey through evaporation: the hive’s warm atmosphere reduces the liquid down until it is thick and sticky.
Since the bees ingest (and digest) the nectar before bringing it back to their hives, honey is easier to digest than other sweeteners. Its enzymes also help your body break down carbohydrates when honey is eaten with bread or oatmeal. Honey also contains traces of protein-rich plant and flower pollen, as well as propolis (the resinous mixture that is used as a sealant for open spaces in the hive).
Honey increases the antioxidant activity of plasma, helping guard against oxidative stress and enhancing the antioxidant defense system in healthy adults (honey should not be given to infants under 12 months old because their digestive system is not fully developed to process it). The pollen in honey has been shown to help with allergy relief, detoxification and anti-cancer properties.
It’s also a great way to naturally sooth a sore throat or cough, and has been shown to be just as effective as cough medicines (without all the chemical side effects). This is especially helpful for parents, since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent recommendation that cough and cold medicines not be given to children under 6 years old. A teaspoon before bed can revitalize your throat for the night, or try drizzling it in a hot cup of herbal tea.
In my kitchen, honey is my go-to sweetener. It’s great for adding a little sparkle to my green smoothies, as a sugar substitute when baking, or simply smoothed on a piece of fresh bread or toast. One jar will last quite a long time, so it’s worth buying the best, raw honey from a local source. Raw honey is truly honey in its purest state—it hasn’t been heated or crystallized, so it contains the richest amount of plant and pollen nutrients.
You can often find different flavors of local honey, depending on what flowers/plants the hives are located near. I’m currently using a Blueberry-Wildflower honey that has a mild taste with just a note of blueberries. Lavender, thyme and honeydew varieties are also worth trying.
If you don’t have access to a local honey source, you can find raw honey at your local health food store or supermarket (just be sure to check the label to make sure it’s truly raw). You can also order from a number of online sellers like Really Raw Honey or Browning’s Honey. Store your honey in a cool, dry place that is out of the sun to keep it at its best.
Drizzle it, spread it, just don’t devour it like crazy (it’s hard, I know). What’s your favorite way to use honey?