Honey for Your Honey
By Neil Zevnik
Celebrate Valentine's Day with recipes that feature nature's sweetest food--honey.

“Honey, I’m home!” That refrain has undoubtedly been heard in domestic dwellings since ancient times. In modern times, it has been immortalized on-screen in 1950s sitcoms and tweaked in movies such as Pleasantville. This golden liquid, created and stored by some of the smallest and most industrious members of the natural kingdom, has come to stand for all that is sweet and desirable in the world. As a foodstuff, beauty treatment, medicine, and metaphor, its value is pervasive throughout centuries and cultures.

Honey in History
Apiculture, or bee-keeping, has been shown to date back at least to 700 BC, but humankind’s desire for the bee’s precious nectar goes back much further than that—a 10,000-year-old rock painting in Spain depicts two women on a ladder collecting honey from a wild nest. As far back as 2100 BC, honey was mentioned in the sacred writings of Egypt and India; in the Old Testament, the promised land is described as “the land of milk and honey.” And its reported uses in many cultures were varied and sometimes a little scary. In the Roman Empire, honey was used to pay taxes; in Greece, a bride blessed herself with honey-dipped fingers to ensure amity with her new mother-in-law; and in the Ottoman Empire, the head of Vlad Tepes, the original Dracula, was preserved in a jar of honey!

Honey is found as well in the rituals and literature of many religions, including Buddhism and Islam. And mythological rumor has it that Cupid dipped the tips of his “love arrows” in honey before sending them flying toward his unsuspecting but soon-to-be-enamored victims.

Healthy Honey
The amazing benefits found in honey have less to do with nutritional value and more to do with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that are unique to this natural sweetener. Honey is not a significant source of vitamins and minerals, but it contains several compounds that are thought to function as antioxidants, including two specific phytonutrients that have been shown to shut down the activity of colon-cancer-causing enzymes.

It appears that a strange and wonderful synergy is created by the combination of the nectar from the flowers, enzymes in the bees’ saliva, and propolis or “bee glue,” which produces results greater than the sum of its parts. The first International Symposium of Honey & Human Health in January 2008 presented research papers that included findings that suggested that large amounts of “friendly bacteria” may account for honey’s therapeutic properties, that honey may improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, and that honey is a more effective cough suppressant in children than the widely used popular medicine dextromethorphan. Important note: honey should never be given to infants under 1 year of age; botulism spores may be present, causing bacterial infections in the intestinal tract.

Another traditional use of honey is as a dressing for wounds, and research is now figuring out exactly why it is so incredibly effective—again, a unique combination of ingredients that dry out the wound and provide antibacterial and antiseptic benefits. Honey reduces odors, swelling, and scarring; in fact, a recent study in India involving burn patients found that honey was vastly superior to conventional treatments in suppressing infection and speeding healing.

And let us not neglect to mention that honey has been used for centuries as a natural, fragrant, and wholly pleasing beauty treatment, due to its humectant qualities and silky feel. It is said that Cleopatra herself owed much of her legendary beauty to a daily infusion of golden honey.

Honey in the Home
There are more than 300 unique flavors of honey across the world today, reflecting the wide array of plants from which the bees do their harvesting. So a few general rules, as follows:

  1. Always try to find organic, untreated honey; nonorganic beekeepers use chemicals in the hives, and of course if the flowers the bees visit have pesticides on them, then the honey may contain those same pesticides.
  2. Color is usually an indication of flavor concentration—the darker the honey, the more robust the flavor.
  3. Store in a cool dry place, in an airtight container.

There are endless daily uses for honey. It can be used as a sweetener for tea and other beverages, as an accompaniment for breakfast foods and breads, or as an ingredient in entrées and desserts. Let your imagination take you to the proverbial land of milk and honey!




Valentine’s Red Heart Phyllo Tart Serves 6

This romantic sweet will surely capture your sweetie’s heart!

¼ cup (½ stick) organic unsalted butter

1 Tbs. buckwheat honey

1 Tbs. mandarin orange syrup (from a small can of mandarin oranges packed in syrup)

1 tsp. Cointreau liqueur (optional)

1 TK oz. pkg. phyllo dough, defrosted

½ cup currant jelly

1 Tbs. orange blossom honey

1 qt. organic strawberries,
hulled and halved lengthwise

12 oz. raspberries

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine butter, buckwheat honey, mandarin orange syrup, and Cointreau; microwave until butter is melted, and stir together.
  3. Open stack of phyllo dough, and keep covered with damp tea towel while working to prevent dough from drying out. Lightly brush parchment with butter mixture. Lay two sheets of phyllo dough on parchment; brush top sheet with butter mix. Repeat six times until you have 14 layers of phyllo. Brush top layer generously.
  4. Cut phyllo stack into heart shape. Remove excess phyllo from baking sheet. Bake heart 15 minutes, until top is golden and heart puffs up slightly. Remove from oven; press down lightly with spatula to flatten. Let heart cool slightly. (Can be prepared up to this point several hours in advance.)
  5. Heat currant jelly and orange blossom honey in saucepan over TK heat until liquid. Brush top of tart with some jelly mixture. Place row of strawberry halves around edge of tart, slightly overlapping; place two rows of raspberries inside that, then another row of strawberries, then fill center with raspberries. Lightly brushberries with more jelly to glaze.
  6. Heat tart in 300° F oven 10 minutes, or until berries are heated through. Serve warm, with organic whipped cream on side.

PER SERVING: 322 CAL; 4 G PROT; 10 G TOTAL FAT (5 G SAT FAT); 6 G CARB; 18 MG CHOL; 174 MG SOD; 7 G FIBER; 31 G SUGARS

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