Honey jars

A Chef's Insight: Honey

Four Kinds and Two Ways to Use It in a Dish and Drink

I once watched a chef dip crispy, fatty, fried chicken parts into a vat of just harvested honey – letting the light golden syrup coat the bird. My first impression was awe mixed with fear, but the taste made me swoon. It was enough to convince me that honey would always have a place at my table.

Or would it?

According to the environmental advocacy group Earth Justice, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) accounts for the loss of some 30-80% of bee colonies since 2007. CCD describes both vanishing bees and destroyed hives - and that’s no small sting. A world without bees is fairly inconceivable when low estimates proclaim that “every third bite of food you eat was pollinated by a bee.” While the cause is hotly debated, the overuse of “neonics” – a fairly new family of bee-unfriendly pesticides – and mono cropping of GMO soy and corn may be the main culprits.

For a very long time, in both organic and conventional farming, pesticides have been sprayed on plants, seeds and soil, but neonics are different: they are more efficient, longer lasting and more lethal to pollinators, including bees who return pollen-covered back to the hive. In one fell swoop, a neonic-sprayed bee may lose its sense of direction, unable to find its way home (the vanishing) or make it back only to poison its entire colony (the destruction).

Today, if you were to wander to your local farmer’s market and stumble upon a stand boasting the sweet viscous syrup, you might choose among styles like clover, buckwheat, lavender or orange blossom. In a GMO world, you may not get that option. GMO and mono cropping go hand in hand and with it, so does the extinction of bee-attractive crops.

So what does all of this mean? Far less honey will be made and far less variety will be on offer. So, buzz around your farmer’s market for local styles that support the local agriculture and keep biodiversity alive by stocking jars that show off all of their sticky possibilities.

In my kitchen, you’ll find raw, unfiltered, local, creamed and Manuka styles. Here’s a quick breakdown of the basics:

Raw and unfiltered: Honey is rich in enzymes that aid digestion and antimicrobial compounds that keep infections at bay. Honey that hasn’t been heated retains all its subtle flavors and those health-supportive, yet heat-sensitive elements remain in the jar.

Local: In the NYC region alone, a growing crop of bee enthusiasts - from Brooklyn Grange, The Waldorf Astoria, and NGI alum Chef Jacques Gautier at his restaurant Palo Santo - keep hives to supply their kitchens with raw product and pollination for the local plants.

Creamed: Creamed honey has been spun or “churned” to pick up air creating a luscious texture that spreads like butter. Try whipping your own in a sturdy Cuisinart or by hand for a sting-free DIY experience.

Manuka: A dark caramel honey from New Zealand bees who feed on the native manuka bush (a relative of the tea tree plant) creates a product that’s so high in anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory compounds that it’s rated on a Unique Manuka Factor scale of 1-10.

Try this:

  • Whip goat cheese and creamed honey and spread on grilled whole grain bread.
  • Sweeten a pitcher of lemon juice and water with a sweet, floral honey and top with seltzer.

This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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