Oh honey. If you know me, you know I have an obsession with honey. It's always been a nice sweetener to use growing up, then in college is when I fell head over heels in love with this sweet, sticky syrup made by bees. Through the years since that obsession has started, I have had the opportunity to work with chefs and the National Honey Board to learn more about honey, work more with honey, and just fall even deeper in love with this amazing product.
Last week I had the chance to partake in the National Honey Boards Honey Summit once again. The first time I learned about the honey summit was actually near the end of my freshman year of college. One of my first chefs, mentors, and good friends, Richard Miscovich, invited me to help him run the kitchen aspect of the Honey Summit in June 2014. I was planning on working the summer in Providence instead of going home and this proved to be extra beneficial since I was able to help out with such a great event.
The Honey Summit is put on regularly by the National Honey Board to educate baking professionals on none other than honey! How it's made and harvested, the many different types that exist, how to use it in baking, and just all things honey. It's a great experience for bakeries and baking professionals to learn more of this incredible little ingredient. In years past, we have done experiments using different types of honey to see the way the flavors come across, have used various amounts of honey to see how it affects a recipe, and just play with it in so many ways to show it can be used in a lot of bakery items and provide a multitude of benefits.
Before I get more into the Summit though, let's talk about the National Honey Board and what they do. Started in the 1980's, the National Honey Board was formed to pool resources together to research, develop, and educate in all aspects of honey. From production and helping maintain healthy bee colonies, processing to create the best honeys, and of course find ways to get honey in more food. They do so much in recent years to help more people start their own colonies, get chefs to incorporate honey themed items on menus, and increase the use of honey in the everyday home.
What I love most about honey is its history. Like sourdough, honey has been harvested for thousands of years and is greatly ingrained in the human species. From early cave paintings depicting the harvest, even jars found in Egyptian tombs, honey has been a part of our history for a long time and it still has a strong standing in our lives. And to me it's just freaking great.
I have seen many things about how honey production harms bees, but I want to make it clear. Honey producers care a lot about their bees. Their bees are their livelihoods. Everything they do for the colony is with a good heart. At the end of the day bees produce way more honey than what they need. Bee keepers only take what is not needed and always leave what the bees do need in the hive. I've also see that some believe it's horrible to kill of the queen to replace her with a new one. The process of the queen aging and dying and a new one taking her place can be more dangerous to the hive with bees dying or the whole colony collapsing compared to the simple act of giving them a new queen. Today's hives have a lot of other problems like pesticides and colony collapse disorder. By having a hive and doing things to maintain the hive, bee keepers are helping support the bee population in a time when they are so close to going extinct.
And let's really talk about that. This is something that lead me to fall in love with bees, the work they do for the world as the number one pollinator. Think of all the food we wouldn't have if bees didn't pollinate for us or if we had to use human labor to pollinate our food. Prices would sky rocket, most of our food would not exist, almost all fruits and vegetables in the store would not be there, crops for cooking oil production, feed for livestock, all of it would not be possible without bees. They are vital to this planet and ecosystem. Without bees, we all die and not just humans, life on this planet would not be the same. That's why it's so important to support bees, support bee keepers, support local honey. Not only is honey delicious, but using it creates demand which creates more bee colonies and more hives which brings back the population in such a high number we can be successful.
Not only supporting the bees but honey is a lot better for you as a sweetener than other more processed sugars. As a baker I want use a lot of sugar and I know many that always ask if they can get less sugar in baked goods. Well honey can help with that. Not only is it a more natural sweetener which is already better, but it is sweeter than white sugar so you don't need as much. I can substitute honey in a recipe and leave it with less sugar than if I used granulated or brown sugars. Honey also has trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It's a natural cough suppressant. It's even acidic enough that in a pinch you can put it on a cut to prevent infection. Like honey just rocks.
One of the best parts about the Honey Summit is the taste testing. Most people know the flavor of honey, but that's just standard clover honey. There thousands of different varietals of honey all based on what the bees pollinate and where the nectar for the honey comes from. The National Honey Board has an amazing honey locator that not only helps you find local honey, but different types around the country. One that I could not get enough of this year was meadowfoam honey. Meadowfoam is a flower that goes only in Oregon but the honey bees make from it has a distinct toasted marshmallow flavor. It sounds crazy but that's just the magic of honey!
Okay, I'm going to stop talking about honey now but you get the picture. Start eating more honey! I love finding local producers through Facebook Market, apps like Nextdoor, or if possible a farmer's market. There are so many out there and it's becoming more and more common for people to have their own hives so the local honey market is buzzing. See what I did there? Go find some good honey, support your local economy and community by buying local honey, and when you want a treat check out the National Honey Board's locator to find some incredible honeys that exist out there!