Honey--Storage Life, Crystallization, Storage Quantities, and Medicinal Uses

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The recent letters and posts on honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have prompted several readers to send comments and questions about storing and using honey, which are summarized below. For some of my answers, I relied heavily on the 3 Bees Honey (of Canada) FAQ page, the Golden Blossom Honey FAQ, a Mayo Clinic web page on Infant Botulin poisoning, BeeSource.com, and the Sugars and Honey FAQ, courtesy of Vickilynn Haycraft's RealFoodLiving.com.

Q.: What is the big deal about honey? Can't I just store cane sugar, instead? Is honey really more healthy?

A. Honey is much more healthy and nutritious than cane or beet sugar. Honey has 15 nutrients whereas refined sugar has essentially none, other than "empty carbohydrates". Honey contains healthful enzymes, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The minerals in honey include zinc and selenium, which could play a role in preventing the spread viral infection. The enzymes in honey include glucose oxidase, invertase (sucrase), diastase (amylase), catalase and acid phosphate, which help predigest our foods, lessen the work of digestive organs and relieve the stress on the digestive glands. Honey is an aid to digestion when taken in the raw state because of its enzyme content while sugar interferes with digestion. Honey enters the bloodstream slowly, at about 2 calories per minute. In contrast, sugar enters quickly at 10 calories per minute, causing blood sugars to fluctuate rapidly and wildly. Sugar causes calcium leakage from bones, contributing to osteoporosis while honey does not.

Also, consider that cooking with honey is much more sustainable in TEOTWAWKI. Beet sugar is grown domestically, but most cane sugar is imported from overseas. Growing up near California's Central Valley, I watched trainloads of sugar beets roll by. High labor costs have shut down much of Hawaii's sugar cane production in recent years. While sugar is produced in only a few states, honey is produced in every state. So it makes sense to get used to using and storing honey, since that will be the form of sugar that will be most commonly available after the balloon goes up.

Q.: Can you give me a rough idea of how much honey the typical person or family would use in a year?

That is simple. What is the weight of the honey you currently use per month? And how much sugar? Add those two numbers together and then multiply that by 12. Then multiply that product by the number of years that you want to store. I recommend that you add much more to your storage plan, to allow quantities for barter and charity. Western societies have been accustomed to large amounts of refined sugar in many packaged foods. In a sugar-starved post-collapse world, you will find that two gallon pails of honey will be high valued--almost like liquid gold.

Q.: How long does honey store, practically?

JWR Replies: If it is stored in a tightly sealed container, honey can literally last a lifetime, and probably even your children's lifetimes, too. There are even accounts of 2000+ year old honey found in tombs that is still edible.

Q: Does honey gradually lose all of its nutritive value in storage?

JWR Replies: Some but not most of the nutritive value in honey is lost with time. Honey is 85% pre-digested carbohydrate, and that is its greatest food value. That essentially doesn't change with time. There hasn't been much scholarly research on exactly how much enzyme loss occurs in honey, with time. It is know known that diastase (or more properly, amylase)--the useful enzyme that "digests" starch--does degrade with time. Researchers have found that when in storage, honey loses about 3% of its diastase per month. This makes long-term storage honey slightly less nutritious, but it is still quite useful as a sweetener and as a useful carbohydrate.

Q.:I have some old honey that solidified in storage. How do I restore it to a useful consistency?

JWR Replies: Store honey at room temperature rather than in a refrigerator. If honey becomes cloudy, it isn't cause for alarm. That is just normal crystallization, which happens over time. Place the honey jar or bucket in a bath of warm water on the stove (the classic "double boiler" arrangement) and set the stove element to low. (Not hot enough to melt a plastic bucket!) Even a two-pound bucket of honey that has fully crystallized will usually liquefy in less than an hour. BTW, an alternative method that doesn't require fuel is just to leave a honey container on the floor a car with its windows rolled up, on a sunny day. (A natural "solar oven.")

Q,: Should I buy raw or pasteurized honey?

JWR Replies: Honey does not benefit from pasteurization. It is naturally low in bacteria and other microbes.Some commercial honey is heated practically to the boiling point, which destroys some of its nutritive value. The main touted benefit of pasteurizing honey is the prevent botulin poisoning. But pasteurizing does not reliably kill botulinum, so there is no real point in pasteurizing honey.

Q.: Does heating solidified honey to melt it destroy its nutritive value?

JWR Replies: There is obviously some damage to enzyme chains, so over-heating honey is not recommended. But heating honey short of the boiling point will not destroy its basic food value. Remember, use only low heat.

Q. Can honey be used as a substitute for sugar in most recipes? Where won't it work?

JWR Replies: Yes, honey can be substituted in most cases. You might have difficulties with some confections that depend on the unique properties of sugar, such as meringues. Because honey is ounce for ounce sweeter than sugar, you need to use less of it in most recipes.

Here is a recipe sugar substitution chart for honey, from the Sugars and Honey FAQ, courtesy of Vickilynn Haycraft's RealFoodLiving.com:
1 C. sugar = 3/4 C. honey minus 1/4 C. liquid or plus 4 Tbs. flour plus 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 C. sugar = 6 Tbs. honey minus 2 Tbs. liquid or plus 2 Tbs. flour plus 1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/3 C. sugar = 1/4 C. honey minus 1 1/2 Tbs. liquid or plus 1 1/2 Tbs. flour plus 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 C. sugar = 3 Tbs. honey minus 1 Tbs. liquid or plus 1 Tbs. flour plus 1/16 tsp. baking soda
Hint: cook cakes and other baked goods made with honey on lower temperature.
Hint: honey will soften cookie batters. If you want the crisp variety of cookies, add 4 Tbs. flour for each 3/4 cup honey used.

Q.: I've read that infants and pregnant women should not be eat honey. It that correct?

JWR Replies: It is safe for a pregnant woman to eat honey. Although it is rare, infants are at greater risk or botulin poisoning, so children under 14 months should not be allowed to eat honey.

Q.: I've heard that honey can be used to treat wounds and burns. Is that true?

JWR Replies: According to a paper presented at an international wound healing conference in Australia, "Honey... has an excellent "track record" over 4 000 years of usage as a wound dressing. In recent times it has been "rediscovered", with numerous reports of animal model and clinical studies, case reports and randomised controlled trials showing it rates favourably alongside modern dressing materials in its effectiveness in managing wounds. Honey has a potent antibacterial activity and is very effective in clearing infection in wounds and protecting wounds from becoming infected. It also has a debriding action, an anti-inflammatory action, and a stimulatory effect on granulation and epithelialisation." Honey is best used on wounds by soaking it into bandages so that it doesn't seep or run away from the wound.

Although honey has been proven to have some efficacy on burns, I generally do not recommend using honey to treat major burns that might require a trip to a hospital emergency room. Why not? Many standard hospital ER burn treatment regimens call for removal/debridement of honey or any other topical ointments that were applied at home, and that is painful! But in a WTSHTF situation where hospital treatment is not available, I'd probably be more prone to use honey on deep tissue burns.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on March 11, 2007 8:35 PM.

Letter Re: The "Third Way" Approach--A Forward Base En Route to a Remote Survival Retreat was the previous entry in this blog.

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