Switching to honey from refined sweeteners is a common first step for many who seek to improve their diet and overall health. This would include baking and cooking honey for recipes used in the home.
Certainly, honey is a most traditional superfood that is praised in ancient texts and a component of numerous traditional diets from around the world. Modern science has verified the health benefits of consuming honey as it contains vitamins, minerals, probiotics (Lactobacillus kunkeei), enzymes, antioxidants, and some amino acids.
Honey in its raw state is also helpful used on the skin and as medicine due to its potent anti-microbial properties that make it useful as a natural antibiotic.
Those who use honey generally seem to understand that it is best to seek it in an unheated (raw) state to obtain maximum benefits. However, what most do not know is that cooking honey or baking with it – even simply adding honey to hot liquids causes negative chemical changes to this ancient food. In fact, consuming honey that has been heated or cooked in any manner actually can contribute to ill health particularly of the digestive system.
Heated Honey in Scientific
Science confirms that heating or cooking honey does indeed damage it, thereby eliminating many of its beneficial effects. This is alarming given that the vast majority of honey available in the grocery store has already been heated whether or not you decide to cook with it at home!
The most obvious change to heated honey is a loss of enzymes and probiotics. Research puts the temperature at which damage occurs higher than Ayurveda. Rather than the Ayurvedic limit of 104°F/ 40°C, heating honey to 118°F/ 48°C or above is the point at which negative chemical changes begin to occur. Foods heated above this critical temperature, even if only for a very brief period, are said to be cooked, or more aptly put — dead.
You can test this for yourself very easily if you are so inclined (be very careful!). Heat a pot of water on the stove to 117°F/ 47°C and notice how you can stick your finger in it without burning yourself. The liquid is very hot, but not burning. Beware if you heat the water just a degree higher to 118°F/ 48°C, however, as it is now at a temperature that will burn your finger very quickly if you attempt to touch it.
Formal research on the physicochemical characteristics and chemical constituents of cooking honey and honey mixed with ghee was published in the Journal of Research in Ayurveda in 2010. Further, the scientists evaluated the effects of consumption of heated honey, ghee, honey mixed with equal amount of ghee and heated honey mixed with heated ghee in rats.
The researchers discovered that the specific gravity of samples showed a significant decrease in honey and ghee samples heated to 284°F/ 140°C which is on the low end for an average cooking temperature. In addition, the pH and ash value of honey heated to 284°F/ 140°C was elevated.
Most problematic, a significant rise in hydroxymethyl furfuraldehyde (HMF) occurred at only 140°F/ 60ºC in the heated honey samples. The negative effects were more pronounced when the heated honey was mixed with ghee leading the study authors to conclude that the increase in HMF “may produce deleterious effects and act as a poison in due course”.
The good news is that feeding rats the mixture of heated and raw honey mixed with ghee for 6 weeks showed no significant change in the food intake, weight gain and relative organ weights. Other research, however, suggests the potential toxicity and carcinogenicity of HMF in humans, although at the present time, not enough research on the subject exists to definitively link intake of this chemical with ill health.
Cooked Honey Fed to Bees is Deadly
In my view, the most telling evidence that we should think twice before cooking honey or consuming it after it has been heated comes from beekeepers themselves. It is known that honey is the winter food for bees, so consumption of it within the hive is a normal and natural occurrence in nature. However, beekeepers who have heated raw honey and then given it back to their bees as food have observed that this practice can be deadly.
The most prominent example of this comes from P. J. Chandler, a pioneer of natural and sustainable beekeeping. He writes that bees fed heated honey perish. This is likely due to the increase in HMF that occurs when honey is heated, as this chemical is toxic to bees.
A similar pattern emerges when calves are fed pasteurized rather than raw milk. They end up sickly, underdeveloped and suffer from organ damage. In some cases, the calves die before reaching adulthood. This startling study by one farmer in Canada includes pictures and is very compelling.
It appears, then, that the “land flowing with milk and honey” written about in the Bible was most definitely raw!
Is Cooking Honey a Healthy Practice?
In summary, is cooking honey a good idea? Probably not given the preponderance of evidence both ancestrally, scientifically and anecdotally from beekeepers themselves that cooked honey is an entirely different food than when it is in a raw state. Clearly, more study on the subject is needed, but for now, it appears wise to select another natural sweetener for your cooking and baking efforts at home.
Source: The Healthy Home Economist
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