Honey in Cooking

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Unlike sugar, which is often a hidden ingredient in processed foods, honey is a very visible sweetener; most of it is added to foods by individual consumers. With its syrup-like viscosity, glossiness, and range of brown shades, it makes an attractive topping for pastries and other foods. It is the characteristic sweetener in such pastries as baklava and lebkuchen, such confections as nougat and torrone, halvah and pasteli, and in such liqueurs as Benedictine, Drambuie, and Irish Mist. Although honey wine, or mead, has all but disappeared, honey beer is popular in Africa. Americans use honey in many baked goods for a variety of reasons. It can be substituted for sugar—1 measure of honey is considered the sweetening equivalent of 1.25–1.5 measures of sugar, although the amount of added liquid must be decreased because honey does contain some water. Because it is more hygroscopic, or water attracting, than table sugar, honey will keep breads and cakes moister than sugar will, losing water to the air more slowly, and even absorbing it on humid days. Thanks to its antioxidant phenolic compounds, it slows the development of stale flavors in baked goods and warmed-over flavors in meats. Bakers can use its acidity to react with baking soda and leaven quickbreads. And its reactive reducing sugars accelerate desirable browning reactions and the development of flavor and color in the crusts of baked goods, in marinades and glazes, and other preparations.