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Updated: January 27, 2010 17:35 IST

Sweet surprise

BHOLANATH JHA
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NATURAL SWEETENER Honey
NATURAL SWEETENER Honey

Honey is a delicious, viscous sweetener, made naturally by bees for their own nourishment. The fascinating process of making honey begins when the bees feast on flowers, collecting the flower nectar in their mouths. This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees' saliva, an alchemical process that turns it into honey. The bees carry the honey back to the hive, where they deposit it into the cells of the hive's walls. The fluttering of their wings provides the necessary ventilation to reduce the honey's moisture content, making it ready for consumption.

Honey comes in a range of colours, including white, amber, red, brown and almost black. Its flavour and texture vary with the type of flower nectar from which it was made. While the most commonly available honeys are made from clover, alfalfa, heather and acacia flowers.

Honey has been used since ancient times both as a food and as a medicine. Apiculture, the practice of beekeeping to produce honey, dates back to at least 700 BC. For many centuries, honey was regarded as sacred due to its wonderfully sweet properties as well as its rarity. It was used mainly in religious ceremonies to pay tribute to the gods, as well as to embalm the deceased. Honey was also used for a variety of medicinal and cosmetic purposes. For a long time in history, its use in cooking was reserved only for the wealthy since it was so expensive that only they could afford it.

Honey is sold in individual containers or in bulk. It is usually pasteurized, although oftentimes at farmer's markets you can find raw honey. Raw honey that has not been pasteurised, clarified, or filtered — provided it is of the highest organic quality — is your best choice. Look for honey that states “100 per cent pure.” While regular honey is translucent, creamy honey is usually opaque and is made by adding finely crystallised honey back into liquid honey. Specialty honeys, made from the nectar of different flowers, such as thyme and lavender, are also available. Remember that the darker the colour, the deeper the flavour.

It is important to keep honey stored in an airtight container so that it doesn't absorb moisture from the air. Honey stored this way in a cool dry place will keep almost indefinitely. One reason for this is that its high sugar content and acidic pH help to inhibit micro organism growth. Honey that is kept at colder temperatures tends to thicken, while honey that is kept at higher temperatures has a tendency to darken and have an altered flavour.

In addition to its reputation as Nature's nutritive sweetener, research indicates that honey's unique composition makes it useful as an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.

Primarily honey has been used as an energy source, but recent research has examined the use of honey as a food or ingredient that helps an athlete's performance and wound healing agent

Now, for a recipe.

Honey Haroset dip

Ingredients

Walnuts, chopped: 50 gm

Dried mixed fruit, chopped: 150 gm

Candied ginger, chopped: 5 gm

Honey: 70 ml

Lemon juice: 30 ml

Ground cinnamon: 5 gm

Toasted almonds, chopped: 20 gm

Method: Combine all the ingredients and mix them well. Spoon it into a small serving bowl. Serve it with matzo, if desired.

Chef de Partie

Taj Connemara

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