a test kitchen dossier
Honey comes out of the air….At early dawn the leaves of trees are found bedewed with honey…. Whether this is the perspiration of the sky or a sort of saliva of the stars, or the moisture of the air purging itself, nevertheless it brings with it the great pleasure of its heavenly nature. It is always of the best quality when it is stored in the best flowers.
- Pliny (A.D. 23-79) ‘Natural History’, book 20
Etymology: From the Old English huniġ; honeycomb is from the Old English huniġcamb
Area of Origin: Middle East
What would life be like without the supple sweetness of honey? A versatile ingredient, this timeless sweetener can be used in just about every type of cooking, and is featured in the food of nearly every culture around the world. Made from the busy work of bees, honey is their food supply for the long winter months when flowers have gone dormant. Happily, the European species of bee (Apis Mellifera) produce enough excess that our own palates may be sated. We’re grateful for their productivity.
Honey has been a staple of kitchens since man developed a sweet tooth, which seems to be on record as far back as ancient Babylonian times (Twenty-First Century B.C.), as well as in documentation from other countries in that part of the world, including India and Egypt. One odd thing we discovered was that honey in fact does not go bad when kept at room temperature, though it may thicken or crystallize with time. Incredibly, honey pots from Egyptian tombs have been found containing honey that is still edible.
As a valued foodstuff, honey was not only used as a sweetener in ancient cultures, but as currency as well. In Ancient Greece it was used in tribute to the gods, particularly in mead (considered the drink of the gods). One also hears of the Biblical term “the land of milk and honey,” referring to the lands of Israel and Palestine, which were said to be brimming with plenty.
In the modern age, honey has become a bit of a delicacy; with the prevalent use of refined sugars, honey is often a treat or special ingredient. Artisanal production methods have resulted in numerous varietals of honey, which can be as esoteric as the truffled variety (we swooned when we discovered that one).
Though more details can be found in our review of Covered in Honey: The Amazing Flavors of Varietal Honey, below is a general overview.
There are more than 300 varietals of honey available in the United States alone. Apart from artisanal varietals, most commercially found (supermarket) honeys are a blend of clover and alfalfa, and can be found as liquid, spreads (whipped), and in the combs themselves. Here are some of our favorites:
Clover & Alfalfa: Popular varietal, found on supermarket shelves; mild-flavored, light-colored
Buckwheat: Darker color, more pungent flavor
Wildflower: Dark color, very sharp, molasses-like flavor
Lavender: Light in color, beautiful for baking; light scent of lavender
Truffle: To die for. Earthy yet sweet, with a pungent fragrance
Honey is beautifully matched with mildly flavored creams (hence our decision to pair it with Mascarpone cheese this month). It is also a delicious accompaniment to many fruits, including apples, figs, and pears.
As a sweetener, honey can be used “straight” in beverages, or as a component of recipes to add delicate sweetness. It is also a wonderful thickener for sweet and savory sauces, and a good base for barbecue sauces and glazes. We’ll go into this in more detail in this month’s Test Kitchen Notes.
We are honey freaks, and we loved exploring its uses in both Middle Eastern dishes and as an alternative in baking, so we will feature a variety or uses this month.
Honeyed Chai Tea
Pork Tenderloin with Asian Honey Glaze
Honeyed Carrot Cake
Persian Almond Honey Brittle
Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Chickpeas and Honeyed Sauce
Mascarpone Cheesecake with Honeyed Pistachios
Lavender & Honey Roasted Chicken
Ever After Cocktail
Rosemary & Honey Roasted Pears
Honey Souffle with Earl Gray Anglaise
Roasted Fennel with Lavender & Honey Marinade
Milk & Honey Lavender Sorbet
Honey Lavender Caramels
Mascarpone Brownies with Honey Chocolate Sauce
Champagne Sabayon with Roasted Strawberries and Honey Pecan Twists
National Honey Board