Honey, which has been used for thousands of years, was considered the ‘food of the Gods’ and ancient populations took advantage of the numerous properties that honey has; they used it in cosmetics (as a cream together with clay, water and citrus leaves) and a lot in cooking. The expression ‘honey moon’ came from a particular drink (made from honey, yeast and water), called hydromel, that was given to newlyweds to drink so they could wish for a son.
Honey is made from sugars and boasts a high concentration of fructose. Amongst
sweet substances, honey is the only one that is completely natural (it is made
by bees and plants) - it does not undergo any manipulation by humans. The biggest
advantage it has for our bodies is that it can provide calories that can be used
straight away and that are not damaging to our bodies. This is why we can consume
it without worrying about weight gain, and even people on strict diets, like athletes,
can eat it.
Regarding those who practise sport at a very high level, honey is particularly good to eat just before competing/training and immediately after to recuperate the used energy. It is also very useful for those who do not carry out much physical exercise but instead do a lot ‘mental exercise’ as it is good for the brain and nervous system. For the elderly, ill or people who do not eat a lot, consumption of ‘the nectar of the Gods’ can be very useful: when we are ill and are not able to nourish ourselves properly, a small quantity of honey melted in some water can immediately supply us with the energy we need. Honey is suitable for almost everyone in this case except those who already have a diet rich in sugar, or those who have problems with diabetes or who want to follow a low calorie diet; it provides 320 Kcal per 100g.
Principle ingredients in honey
Honey is made from fructose, glucose, water, sugars and other ingredients such as organic acids, minerals, enzymes, aromas and many more. Honey is very nutritious and easy to digest. The glucose provides energy that can be used straightaway and the fructose is metabolised at a hepatic level and is stored as reserve energy. Honey is mainly made up of simple sugars (different amounts of glucose and fructose) and this relationship is very important since a high glucose content means that it is likely to crystallise and therefore be easy to digest. Crystallisation is a natural process that depends, above all, on the relationship between glucose, fructose and the temperature (14°C maximum). If the glucose content is high, the process will be quicker however, low temperatures inhibit it.
As soon as honey has been extracted, it gives off many fragrances but such characteristics tend to change over time, as well as chemical processes that are accelerated by the preservation temperature. Which chemical parameters are taken into consideration? HMF and the enzyme diastase (HMF, or hydroxymethylfurfural, is a substance that is not found in honey at the point of extraction but that forms naturally following the progressive degradation of the sugars, which is accelerated by hot temperatures). Diastase is an enzyme that is naturally present in honey and that breaks down both over time and with the help of thermal processes. There should not be more than 20mg of HMF per kilogram of honey, whilst the content of diastase can vary a lot depending on the natural quality of the enzymes, but it generally should be more than 8, but there are some exceptions.
Properties of honey
The richness of this food is thanks to its high sugar concentration and the presence of fructose, making it a ‘unique’ product. Fructose provides a special sweetening effect and long-lasting energy because, whilst glucose is burnt immediately, fructose, thanks to its emollient properties, remains ‘available’ for longer. This is also why honey has more advantages than sugar. Other important functions that honey provide are antibacterial and antibiotic ones, however there are many more that, as yet, have not been discovered. Currently though, it is known that, in addition to sugars, honey contains many staple substances and is a natural product that is able to make our diets healthier and more balanced.
THERAPEUTIC PROPERTIES OF HONEY
Honey has many therapeutic properties that change according to the pollen of the flower it comes from. Here are some examples:
|Acacia flower honey||Flavour: delicate, light and velvety
Properties: restorative, laxative, anti-inflammatory for the throat, good for digestive system problems, detoxifier for the liver, works against stomach acidity.
|Orange tree honey||Flavour: aromatic and pleasurably acidic.
Properties: healing for ulcers, antispasmodic, sedative. Works against insomnia and nervous excitement.
|Forest honey||Flavour: strong.
Properties: good when suffering from the flu.
|Chestnut honey||Flavour: intense with a bitter after taste.
Properties: promotes good blood circulation, antispasmodic, astringent, disinfectant of urinal tracts.
Recommended for babies and the elderly.
|Sunflower honey||Flavour: not very sweet, dry and with a strong pollen aroma.
Properties: antineuralgic, febrifuge, recommended to deal with cholesterol.
Calcifying for the bones.
|Alfalfa honey||Flavour: delicate, neutral.
Properties:toner, anti-inflammatory, good for athletes after competing.
|Tree heath honey||Flavour: strong with hints of aniseed.
Properties: anti-rheumatic properties, anti-anaemia tonic.
|Eucalyptus honey||Flavour: malt, caramelised sugar.
Properties: antibiotic and anti-asthmatic actions. Good for coughs.
|Fir tree honey||Flavour: resinous, like caramelised sugar.
Properties: antiseptic for the lungs and respiratory tracts.
|Oak tree honey||Flavour: slightly bitter (dark brown in colour).
Used by altheletes for its high mineral content.
|Millefiori honey||Flavour: very delicate, no particular after taste.
Properties: detoxifying actions on the liver.
|Juniper honey||Flavour: aromatic flavours that are typical of highlands and mountains.
Properties: particularly recommended for respiratory diseases.
|Dandelion and apple honey||Flavour: very distinct, strong, sharp.
Properties: diuretic, purifying, carries out beneficial functions on the kidneys.
|Linden honey||Flavour: menthol, balsamic, very persistent.
Properties: painkiller for menstrual pains, calming, diuretic, digestive.
Recommended for expectorant teas and works against insomnia and irritability.
|Thyme honey||Flavour: intense and persistent, aromatic.
Properties: antiseptic, calming, combats colds.
|Clover honey||Flavour: intense and persistent, aromatic.
Properties: antiseptic, calming.
Flavour: very delicate.
|Honey made from flower pollen||Flavour: plant flavoured, not always very pleasant.
Properties: source of protein, anti-stress product.
Can be consumed in yoghurt or milk.
A recent study has identified that honey is not actually like a phytotherapy medicine but is actually a real and true medicine: thyme honey in particular, and mielato (the sugary secretion that comes from bees), aid the healing of cuts. However, the healing properties of this food are not new and have been known since ancient times and are today appreciated by The Medical Journal that has included antibacterial capabilities into the list of the beneficial properties of honey. In France, the scientist Bernard Descottes, the head of department of Surgery and Transplants at the Limoges University Hospital, has used honey to help with healing and wounds since 1984 with extremely positive results. The ‘Honey Therapy’, renamed ‘Bee Therapy’ by Descottes, has been very successful and thus Descottes has been ‘hailed’ the President of the Association. According to experts, who at the Limoges University Hospital have a special treatment protocol, honey works twice as fast a oily medicines. The antiseptic secret to honey is the oxygenated water that is naturally produced by the enzyme which bees use to transform nectar into honey. The healing power, according to Descottes, it actually related to both sugar, which through osmosis dries the wound, and a mixture of organic compounds that encourage the emission of pre-healing cytokines and interleukins. According to a further study carried out at the University of Pisa, honey is also effective against different microorganisms that are responsible for internal infections.