It takes 60,000 or so bees and nearly 2 million flowers to craft one pound of honey, the sticky and sweet substance we spoon into coffee and tea—but that’s not the only reason that raw honey deserves respect.
Extracted straight from the honeycomb by beekeepers, in its pure state, the natural sweetener contains a plethora of health benefits.
For starters, honey is naturally antibacterial and antifungal. Studies have shown that honey is as effective at fighting bacteria as antibiotics, and the World Health Organization found that honey worked just as well as a cough suppressant as dextromethorphan (DM), the active ingredient in many over-the-counter cold medications. That old school home remedy of mixing honey into hot tea to heal a sore throat really does help!
Raw honey in particular has some pretty awesome benefits; because it’s unprocessed and hasn’t been heated or pasteurized, it retains its micronutrient density. Iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin are all found in honey.
Naturally super sweet, honey is often substituted in recipes for sugar, maple syrup, or other sweeteners. And sure, honey is considered a simple carbohydrate like sugar—which means it’s quickly absorbed and digested by the body—but honey has a lower glycemic index than the white stuff does. So honey won’t skyrocket blood sugar levels like pure cane sugar does, but it still imparts the sweetness you crave in cookies and desserts.
But choose your honeypot wisely. A study done by Food Safety News tested various brands of honey found in the aisles of grocery stores and found that a whopping 76 percent weren’t actually honey, but instead were a combination of high-fructose corn syrup and honey that had been ultra-filtered to eliminate pollen (the good stuff!). Yuck.
Avoid the nasty stuff by opting for raw honey—don’t be freaked out that it might look a little cloudy or opaque. That means it hasn’t been pasteurized, so its nutrient content is higher.
As always, it’s safest to avoid giving honey to infants, especially if it hasn’t been pasteurized. Otherwise, you’re free to use honey in almost any dish you can think of for earthy and subtle sweetness. Try it in these honey almond popcorn balls and this fruity bulgur wheat porridge, or swirled into your morning cup of joe for an extra immune boost.