The sweetness of honey

Honey is a natural sweetener, with various uses, that is produced by bees who gather nectar from flowers.

A glass jar filled with honey against a dark background.
Photo: Phil Beard/

Did you know?

  • Michigan has over 450 species of bees.
  • Bees are important crop pollinators for cherries, blueberries and strawberries.
  • You can feed bees by planting certain flowers.
  • The use of honey has been traced back 8,000 years on a cave painting.
  • A honeycomb cell has six sides.

What is honey?

Michigan’s most abundant fruit and vegetable crops depend on the honey bee and its ability to pollinate. Honey is the sticky, sweet result of this pollination process. According to the National Institutes of Health, honey is a byproduct of nectar from a flower and the digestive tract of a honey bee, which is then dehydrated in the hive creating a concentrated substance. This concentrated sweet substance, honey, has been used since ancient times for food and medicinal purposes. Honey contains trace amounts of about 200 substances, but is mostly made up of sugar and water.

How is honey processed?

Honey is collected from the hives by uncapping the honeycomb cells and extracting the honey. Most honey is pasteurized with high heat which delays crystallization and destroys yeast cells to enhance shelf life. If honey is collected and filtered without heat, it is considered raw honey. Filtering honey removes air bubbles, particles and pollen grains. A study by the National Honey Board found that heating honey does not affect the nutrient content or antioxidant activity found in honey.

Honey safety

Honey is a generally safe food. If you are allergic to pollen, consuming raw honey has not shown to relieve those allergies due to the minute amount of pollen present. Honey does contain botulism spores that release a toxin that, when swallowed, affects an infant’s nervous system and can be deadly. According to Poison Control, “children under the age of 12 months are at risk of infant botulism if they are fed honey or anything with honey in it. Infants’ systems are too immature to prevent this toxin from developing.”

Honey as a sweetener

Being mostly sugar, honey contains 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. Honey is said to taste slightly sweeter than granulated sugar and can be a great substitution in recipes calling for sugar. When substituting honey for sugar in baked goods, follow these recommended steps:

  • Start by substituting half of the sugar with honey.
  • For each cup of honey used in the recipe, reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup to prevent your batter from being too runny.
  • Add about ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used. This will help your baked goods rise like they should.
  • Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent your baked goods from burning. Honey’s natural sugars caramelize faster than sugar and will burn more quickly.
  • When measuring honey, spray a light coat of oil in your measuring utensil so that the honey will slide out smoothly.

If you are not quite ready to use your math skills to adjust your own recipes to incorporate honey, here is a fun recipe that will provide energy and protein. Please make sure children under 12 months are not fed this snack.

Peanut Butter Honey Granola Balls (National Honey Board)

Yield: Makes 8-10 balls


  • 1/2 cup unsweetened natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granola 
  • 2 T peanut butter powder
  • 2 T honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cocoa for coating balls
  • 1/2 cup ground honey roasted peanuts for coating balls


In a food processor, grind 1/2 cup granola until fine powder is formed. Place in a bowl; set aside. In the food processor, grind 1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts until fine like gravel; place in a different bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1 tablespoon peanut butter powder, the ground granola and 2 tablespoons honey with a pinch of salt. Mix until incorporated.

Hand roll balls of the peanut butter mixture approximately 2 tablespoons of mixture per ball. (Note: If too sticky to form balls, add a little more peanut butter powder to the mixture.) Roll ball into the ground peanut mixture, or the cocoa powder to coat. Place balls on a parchment lined sheet tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes, and serve.

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