PADDINGTON Bear may be flavour of the month at the cinema, but at the breakfast table it is Pooh’s tastes that reign supreme. Sales are soaring, partly thanks to honey’s growing reputation as a health superfood.Honey is said to have antiseptic properties and to help with a variety of complaints from digestive disorders and sore throats to hay fever and even antibiotic-resistant MRSA. Several clinical studies support the traditional use of honey as a cough-soother.
Its ability to attract and retain moisture has also made it sought after as a beauty treatment — it’s said to have cleansing, exfoliating, anti-ageing and acne-ridding qualities. Beauties through the ages, from Cleopatra to Scarlett Johansson, have used honey as a complexion enhancer.
Honey is turning up in lollies, spirits and cereals, as consumers view it as a healthier alternative to refined sugar. But is it? Granulated sugar is 100 per cent sucrose, whereas honey is a mix of fructose, glucose and about 20 per cent water.
Because honey is denser than sugar, though, a teaspoon of the sticky stuff contains more calories. What’s more, says nutritional therapist and naturopath Vicki Edgson, there is no health advantage to eating cheap honey. “Quality is everything. If you’re buying runny honey in a squeezable plastic bottle it will behave in the body exactly the same as white sugar,” she says.
Most honeys you find on supermarket shelves have been pasteurised to stop them solidifying and to prevent any risk of fermentation. “There are virtually no nutritional benefits to this sort of honey. It’s been heated, which has killed off all the enzymes and antioxidants,” Edgson says.
“Monofloral” honeys are a gastronomic step up from the mild-tasting squirts. Made from the nectar of a single species, they do indeed taste distinctive: orange blossom honey is fruity and tangy, pine honey is resinous, clover honey pale and creamy-tasting, chestnut honey strongly aromatic with a bitter aftertaste. According to Edgson, personal preference aside, none is nutritionally much superior to any other.
Raw (unpasteurised) honey is another story. It contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins, including niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid. And it’s likely to be significantly more expensive.
“Raw honey needs to be collected from hives that are maintained by experienced beekeepers to preserve their cleanliness,” Edgson says. “The germ-fighting properties of honey ensure that most organisms can’t survive in it, but bacteria that reproduce using spores, including the one that causes botulism, can remain.”
Pasteurisation doesn’t reliably kill the spores of clostridium botulinum either, so honey of any sort is not recommended for babies under 12 months old.
In fact, Edgson says she would avoid giving children honey. She thinks it important not to give them a sweet tooth, which honey will almost certainly do. The benefits of honey wouldn’t outweigh that factor, and “the only circumstance in which I would want to give a child a spoonful of honey would be when they had a cold”.
For the honey as health food brigade, one variety beats all the rest: Manuka. This the stuff Johansson uses as a face mask. Classical singer Katherine Jenkins soothes her throat with it, while Novak Djokovic, the No 1 ranked tennis player, starts each day with two spoonfuls of the honey mixed in warm water.
While it is just as sugary and calorific as other types of honey, Manuka has been shown to be particularly effective at killing bacteria and helping to heal wounds. Research published in the November 2008 issue of the journal Phytotherapy Research indicates that rats fed Manuka honey suffered a decreased incidence of the bowel disease colitis. It’s even been shown to help cure dandruff, when diluted and spread on the scalp.
Manuka honey is an acquired taste, being earthy and herbaceous with a woody aftertaste, rather than delivering the sort of mild sweetness that lends itself to being slathered over a crumpet.
“It’s not a sweet treat,” Edgson agrees. “Ideally, you should eat it first thing in the morning because the enzymes in the honey are more effective on an empty stomach.”
The Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) label on a jar of Manuka honey indicates the strength of its antibacterial properties, so the higher the factor, the more potent the honey — and the more expensive.
By Lydia Slater
With thanks to The Australian
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