Honey: Versatile and Delicious

By Beacon Staff

I’m fascinated by the sudden light bulbs appearing over the heads of food manufacturers who’ve been touting the fact that they’ve begun replacing high fructose corn syrup with real sugar or honey.

Imagine that – sweetening something with a natural substance like sugar and honey, instead of a chemically complex sweetener. Are you amazed at this feat?

Honey has a plethora of ancient history and yet is still considered to be a modern food. There were jars of well-preserved honey in ransacked pyramids in Egypt and, according to the hieroglyphics, these were left as sustenance for the pharaohs’ afterlife journeys. Amazingly, the honey in the pyramids was still edible after 4,000 years. In the Old Testament the Promised Land is a place rich with “milk and honey.” Honey was used in ancient Greece and Rome and the Celts and other tribes in Britain made mead from honey throughout ancient and medieval history.

Add honey to tea with lemon and you’ve got an old-style comfort for a head cold. Every time I have a sore throat, my mother repeats the advice of her great grandmother: sip warm honey with lemon. And although there are some disagreements about the exact disease-fighting and anti-oxidant powers of honey, it sure tastes good.

Caution: Never ever give honey to babies and toddlers under 2 years old. Their still developing immune systems have not yet developed the ability to tolerate the spores contained in honey.

Honey comes from bees. Bees are quickly becoming endangered for a variety of reasons, not all proven, but there seems to be evidence that environmental stress factors have had an effect on bee populations. This is something we need to pay attention to.

We need bees not just for their honey but they are primary pollinators for plants that we depend on for a major portion of the food supply. I read recently that Albert Einstein postulated that if bees were to disappear from the earth, humankind would have about four years to live.

I love cooking with honey. There are a few considerations when using honey as an ingredient, especially if you’re using it as a substitute for sugar. First of all, when substituting, the ratio is conveniently one to one. But honey has more calories than sugar – about 30 percent – and while sugar has no taste, honey imparts a definite flavor. So that’s important when you decide whether or not you’re going to use honey.

I use honey primarily for glazes, especially for meats and poultry, although I enjoy baking with it, too. The way the honey interacts with herbs and spices when heat is applied helps punch up the spiciness of the spices and the savory quality of the herbs. Sometimes, I’ll also add some molasses to keep the mixture thick because honey by itself will liquefy under high heat and defeat the purpose of the glaze.

Here’s a recipe just in time for summer grilling. It’s my Honey and Whiskey-Glazed Ribs:

3 lbs. pork spareribs
For the glaze:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/8 cup oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup bourbon whiskey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup honey
1/8 cup molasses
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp. liquid smoke
For the dry rub:
2 tsp. sugar
1 pinch salt
3/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 pinch black pepper

To make the glaze, melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add oil and heat for two minutes. Add onion and sauté until pale golden (about five minutes). Add ketchup, whiskey, vinegar, orange juice, honey, molasses, Worcestershire, pepper, liquid smoke, and salt. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Reduce to a medium-low heat and cook until mixture is thick and glossy, stirring occasionally, about one hour.

For the ribs, rub with a mixture of sugar, allspice, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and let stand at least 45 minutes.

Prepare the grill and heat to medium-high. Lightly oil the grill. Place ribs on grill and sear five minutes per side. Move ribs to the outer edges of grill. Cover with grill lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil and continue grilling until meat is tender (about 30 minutes), turning ribs occasionally. Brush the ribs with some of the glaze during the last five minutes of cooking.

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