In Ayurveda honey is considered one of the most effective natural delivery systems for the therapeutic administration of herbs and remedies. And there is a good reason for it. Raw honey is one of nature’s great treasures. Containing small amounts of natural bee pollen, royal jelly, propolis and beeswax, the benefits are plentiful. Honey is is full of vitamins – like energizing B vitamins and immune-boosting vitamin C – and contain antibacterial and antioxidant properties, helping fight off free radicals in your body and keeping your immune system strong. It can help with burns, would healing and respiratory problems. And it can even help with allergies!
However, not all honey is created equal – most of the golden liquid you see on the shelves of the supermarket are void of any of the above benefits and are simply a sugary commercial liquid that does nothing but delver a sugar spike when consumed.
So what is the difference between the commercial honey and the “real” (raw) honey?
Raw honey is the original sweet liquid that honeybees produce from the concentrated nectar of flowers. It is totally unheated, unpasteurized, unprocessed honey. It is pure honey where nothing has been added or removed. Commercial honey, on the other hand, has gone through the process of pasteurisation and filtration. Just like most foods that are processed or pasteurized, liquid honey loses a lot of its beneficial nutrients when it undergoes a heating process. When honey is heated above the natural temperature of the beehive, honey’s essential composition changes and it’s quality is compromised. Furthermore, commercial honey undergoes a process of ultra-filtarion when it is forced at high pressure through extremely small filters – this process does not only remove impurities (like wax and bee parts), but also all the pollen with all its reported enzymes, antioxidants and well documented anti-allergenic benefits. (Commercial honey is filtered in order to remove nay tiny particles that can act as ‘seeds’ for the crystallisation process. By removing them with micro-filtering, crystallization is delayed.) So while the process of pasteurising and filtration may help with producing cleaner, smoother, more appealing product that is easier to extract, handle and package, it also destroys all the health properties that honey is renown for.
Finally, raw honey actually scores much lower on the glycaemic index than commercial honey: raw honey generally scores around 30-40 on the index, whilst most commercial honeys score between 55 and 80. This goes in line with the belief that raw honey produced in the traditional way will not spike your blood sugar in the same way that commercial honey does.The slower energy release of the raw honey could be due to the presence of beneficial elements, such as pollen, that slow down the rate at which honey is processed; or due to the presence of the invertase (saccharase) diastase (amylase) enzyme which break down sugars and help digestion; or due to the fact that raw honey hasn’t been adulterated with other sweeteners (such as corn syrup for example).
To revert back to Ayurveda again. One of the key Ayurvedic dietary principles it that honey should never be heated to above 40°C because honey digest slowly when cooked and the molecules become like glue, adhering to mucous membranes and clogging the body’s channels, producing ‘ama’, or undigested matter in the body, which is considered to be the root cause of most ill health according to Ayurveda. Many incompatible food combinations produce ama (or toxins), but heated honey is one of the most difficult forms to cleanse.
When we consume raw “live” honey, there is a great number of health benefits that we get with it. There are living, healthy bacteria (there are 6 species of lactobacilli and 4 species of bifidobacteria in honey) in quality raw honey products. It is these probiotic bacteria and natural enzymes found in raw honey that make it so digestible to humans. Apart from traces of pollen (amylase, an enzyme concentrated in flower pollen, is said to help predigest starchy foods like breads), raw honey also contains small amount of propolis – sometimes called “bee glue,” it is a complex mixture of resins and other substances that honeybees use to seal the hive and make it safe from bacteria and other micro-organisms. From a chemical standpoint, propolis contains more than 180 compounds, including caffeic acid phenethyl ester, which has been shown to inhibit cancer growth, as well as organic acids which contribute to its antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral effects, in addition to an abundance of flavinoids. Pinocembrin is the most abundant flavonoid in propolis, and has been proven to be a powerful neuroprotective. As a result, for us propolis is a powerhouse of anti-microbal medicine – used to cure sore throats, colds and other viruses, regulate immune system and aid skin healing in burns. In the later, when raw honey is applied topically, several mechanisms play a role in the wound healing. Because honey is composed mainly of glucose and fructose – two sugars that strongly attract water – honey absorbs water in the wound, drying it out so that the growth of bacteria and fungi is inhibited. Furthermore, raw honey contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase that, when combined with water, produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic. (Note that Manuka honey is different because it produces a substance called methylglyoxal, which has unique antibacterial activity and decreases the surface pH of wounds.) There is even a school of thought that eating honey can help with pollen allergies through a process called immunotherapy. Honey contains a variety of the same spores that give allergy sufferers so much trouble when the seasons change. Introducing these spores into the body in small amounts by eating honey might make the body more accustomed to their presence and decrease the chance of an allergic immune response.
As it is best to use raw honey in unheated form to preserve its benefits, I recommend not using it in baking and instead including it into raw deserts. Below is an easy recipe for creamy delicate white truffles that always hits the spot for those with a sweet tooth.
1/2 cup raw honey
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut butter
1 cup cacao butter
1 and 1/4 cups cashew nuts, briefly soaked and blended until smooth cashew butter consistency
zest of 4 lemons
a pinch of pink Himalayan salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
a drop of vanilla extract
a large handful of goji berries (briefly soaked, drained and then chopped)
desiccated coconut & hemp seeds to garnish
Gently melt coconut oil, coconut butter and cacao butter over a bain marie (by putting a container over boiling water and using the steam to melt the delicate ingredients without heating them to high temperature). Once melted, cool down slightly before adding in the creamed cashews, raw honey and all the other ingredients apart from goji berries and garnishes. Using an immersion blender blend until completely smooth. Fold in the goji berried and place the paste into the fridge to cool for a few hours.
Once the mixture is firm enough to scoop, take out of the fridge and form into small balls (I use a melon scoop to do this) and roll in either hemp seeds or desiccated coconut to garnish and stop the truffles from sticking. Place into the fridge to firm. Truffles should be kept in the fridge and eaten cold. They will keep for a few weeks (that is if they last that long!).