1st Lt. Jennifer West, MS, RD, LD
Nutrition Clinic
Eisenhower Army Medical Center
September is National Honey Month. What a sweet topic to celebrate. Ancient cultures that revered this sticky treat include Egyptians and Greeks. The Egyptians used honey in a variety of ways including offerings to gods, baked goods, cosmetics and even in embalming fluid recipes.
The ancient Greeks also used honey to bake sweet offerings for their gods and for medicinal qualities.

Today, honey and beeswax are used in a variety of ways. Most people use honey as a sweetener and flavor additive to foods, while the wax is used in cosmetics, candles, lotions, even shoe polish. For bees, the honey is their food source and the wax comb provides a storage compartment for the honey as well as a nursery for baby bees.

So, how is honey made exactly? Prepare yourself if you don't know …

Female worker bees travel from flower to flower, collecting nectar. While the flower pollen collects on the bees, the flower nectar is stored in the bee. Enzymes in the bee's stomach digests the nectar into simplified sugars. This simplified sugar is then ejected (yup, vomited) by the bee into a wax storage compartment called the comb. Over time, usually a few months, excess water is evaporated and what is left is a thick, sweet, sticky fluid we call honey.

Typically, beekeepers will harvest honey in the fall, of course leaving some honey for the bees to eat over the winter months. The honey is extracted from the wax combs, filtered and possibly pasteurized. While we can find honey available year 'round in stores, your local farmers markets may have locally produced honey only available seasonally.

In the kitchen, honey is used as a sweetener. Even if the honey has crystalized, it is still OK to use. Simply warm it gently in a microwave or pot of warm water until it has liquefied. Honey also comes in a variety of flavors. Buckwheat honey is the darkest in color and typically has the strongest flavor. Wildflower honey is typically light in color and mild in flavor. If you are swapping honey for sugar in recipes, there are a few things to consider:
• In baked products, no more than half of the granulated sugar should be replaced with honey.

• Use 1 part honey for every 1 � parts sugar.

• Reduce the liquid in the recipe by a quarter cup per cup of honey. Honey contains water.

• Add a half teaspoon baking soda for every cup of honey used to balance the acidity.

• Honey tends to brown products more easily. Turn down the oven temperature by 25 degrees to reduce over-browning.

In the clinic, one tablespoon of honey has about 65 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrate. To compare, one tablespoon of table sugar has about 45 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrate. So, if you are watching your added sugar intake, don't be fooled into thinking honey doesn't count as added sugar. It is usually less processed than table sugar, and definitely less processed than high-fructose corn syrup, but it is still added sugar.

Honey has even been used to help heal wounds. The antibacterial properties of honey has helped treat skin burns and pressure ulcers. Honey is the base ingredient in Medihoney, which was approved by the FDA in 2007 for clinical use.

Whichever method you choose to enjoy honey, remember that honey should not be fed to children under the age of one. Honey from the jar (pasteurized or raw) can contain the botulism bacteria that immature immune system of infants cannot handle and can have detrimental consequences for the child.

For those over the age of one, enjoy your honey responsibly.

Take action to support bees and diverse plant populations. Reduce pesticide use in your yards and gardens, plant bee-friendly plants and support your local beekeepers by buying locally produced honey.