I’ve been going through a lot of honey lately. We’ve always used it for random things — our granola is partially sweetened with honey, and I use it in bread-making. My kids love it on their sandwiches and toast, and there’s nothing better for sweetening herbal tea in winter. But since I started the GAPS diet, it’s the only sweetener I can have (outside of the natural sugars found in most fresh and dried fruits) — so our consumption has doubled.
Honey is a classic example of the expression, you get what you pay for. Last fall, honey made headlines when it was discovered that large portions of the stock on US grocery shelves was likely obtained illegally from China — and could be contaminated with lead and antibiotics, or laced with artificial fillers. It’s apparently difficult to regulate the sources of large honey producers, which makes it easy for the honey cartel (only mildly tongue-in-cheek) to get away with selling a contaminated product & labeling it as pure.
Since it’s virtually impossible to know the source of honey on the shelves, why not play it safe and buy local honey straight from a farmer (or local grocer who can vouch for them)?
I’ll pretend I’m back in high school debate class and outline some points of my persuasive argument:
- Local honey is actually honey. From actual bees.
- Local honey can possibly help combat seasonal allergies. The medical evidence on this is sketchy (though people swear by it), but you can at least be assured that fake honey from China won’t help them at all, and might make them worse.
- Local honey tastes better. If you prefer mild honey, go for clover (if clover isn’t produced in your locale, your health food store likely sells a regional version).
- You can usually only buy raw (unpasteurized) honey locally/regionally. Raw honey has retained beneficial enzymes to aid in digestion — a thin layer spread on bread actually starts the digestive process for you.
- Buying local honey helps keep a farmer in business. Those bees are helpful to your environment in ways more than simple production.
The cheapest way to buy it is in bulk — I buy it by the gallon ($35-$40, or around $5/pint) and even once split a 5-gallon bucket with friends ($3.50/pint). But if you don’t use it quickly enough, you could be faced with that ultimate frustration: a big batch of crystallized honey. I wrote a post last year that included a remedy for that problem, but since that process can be risky (I cracked two mason jars and lost 2 quarts of honey), prevention is the way to go.
Honey crystallizes fastest when stored at temperatures between 55° and 63°F — and in my kitchen in winter, the temps easily go down to that range at night. Last winter, I was voicing my frustrations to my honey farmer, and he suggested I freeze it. Freezing honey preserves its enzymes, protects it from crystallization, and is easy to do with a little extra space in your freezer.
The honey doesn’t freeze into a solid block — it more has the consistency of hardened taffy. When I buy a gallon, I immediately divide it into four quart canning jars, letting every last bit drip from the container. One quart jar stays out for use, the rest go in the freezer.
I’m feeling pretty good about my persuasive argument at this point (it helps that I don’t type “um,” — whereas if I was saying all this in person I would have uttered the word no less than 200 times). If you have a plastic honey bear in your pantry, perhaps labelled with the words “Great Value” (and really, who among us hasn’t?), have I convinced you to give a finger to the cartel and try local?
If so, I’ll be forwarding your answer to my high school debate coach. She should probably know that, though it took 20 years, her efforts were not in vain.
This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday.