Baking with honey instead of sugar not only sweetens foods naturally, but it provides many functional advantages as well. Before you begin, there are a few things you need to know.
Honey Is Sweeter Than Sugar
Honey, especially darker honey, is much sweeter than sugar. It has a much stronger taste and can be overbearing if you use it too much. Thus, using less is advisable.
Sugar is comprised of 50% fructose and 50% glucose, while honey is made of 40% fructose and 30% glucose. The remainder of honey consists of minerals, pollen, and water.
Honey also has a much better nutritional profile and contains:
- amino acids
Both are broken down quickly by the body.
Another benefit is that honey is easier to digest since it's already partially broken down because of the enzymes it contains.
Nutritional Value of Honey vs. Sugar
Comparing one cup of honey to one cup of sugar shows that honey also has more calories, more carbs, and more sugar. Additionally, it has the added advantage of protein.
A measuring cup of honey:
- 1030 calories
- 279 g carbohydrates
- 278 g sugar
- 1.02 g protein
- 0 g fat
A measuring cup of sugar:
- 774 calories
- 200 carbs
- 199.6 g sugar
- 0 g protein
- 0 g fat
Furthermore, one ounce of honey contains 1% of the daily value in copper, manganese, iron, and riboflavin. In contrast, sugar has zero additional vitamins or minerals.
Does Baking With Honey Retain Its Health Benefits?
You'll see a lot of misinformation that touts the added medicinal benefits of baking with honey. The truth is heating honey actually destroys all of its special benefits.
Heating honey to a mere 98.6°F (37°C) results in a loss of up to 200 different constituents:
- At 104° F (40°C), important enzymes that aid digestion are destroyed.
- At 122°F (50°C), honey turns to caramel and becomes comparable to granulated sugar.
- At 140°F (60°C), honey rapidly degrades.
- Anything higher than 160°F (71.1°C), results in complete degradation and caramelization.
Heat also destroys the polyphenols responsible for antioxidants, antimicrobials, and antibacterial capabilities.
The point is not to suggest that baking with honey is bad but to bring truth to the myth that you get all of the extraordinary health qualities of honey when baking.
Overall, honey still presents a better nutritional profile, but you are sacrificing all of the medicinal constituents during the heating process.
So What Are the Benefits of Baking With Honey?
The taste, of course. Sugar tastes like sugar no matter where it comes from.
Raw honey, on the other hand, has an exquisite collection of flavors from all around the world. From its sweetness to its flavor and even its texture, honey offers a diverse arena for your tastebuds to explore.
A jar of local honey in California will taste very different than a jar of local honey in New York.
Whether plain or infused with herbs and spices, adding honey to any baked dish lets you personalize your favorite recipes. Darker honey, in particular, can create a uniquely magnificent flavor.
Honey is also hygroscopic, giving your baked goods a little textural enhancement. It keeps them moist and results in a tighter crumb. Alternatively, it adds some chewiness to baked goods that are ordinarily crisp.
Honey also has a high acidity level that can act as a pseudo-preservative. Baking with honey can actually extend the shelf life of your favorite recipes.
Finally, honey helps your baked goods brown more evenly, giving them a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.
Healthwise, honey is lower on the glycemic index than sugar, meaning it won't spike your blood sugars as badly.
How to Substitute Honey for Sugar When Baking
There are four main rules to follow when substituting honey with any baked good. As with many rules in cooking, they can be tailored to your culinary preferences.
1. Use Less Honey
Many home cooks suggest using a 1:1 ratio of sugar to honey. However, remember, honey is naturally sweeter. If your recipe calls for one cup of sugar, use ½ to ⅔ cup of honey instead. Otherwise, you may end up with some sicky-sweet treats.
2. Subtract Liquids
Because honey adds moisture to your mix, reduce other liquids in your recipe. Professional chefs suggest reducing other liquids by 25%. For every cup of honey used, reduce other liquids in your recipe by ¼ cup.
Alternatively, if you have no other liquids in your recipe, increase your flour by 2 tablespoons for every cup of honey used.
3. Add Baking Soda
To help neutralize the acidity and help your baked goods rise, add ¼ to ½ teaspoon baking soda for every cup of honey used in the recipe unless it calls for yeast.
In this case, no baking soda is necessary.
4. Lower Oven Temperature
Because honey browns faster, bake your goods at a lower temperature to prevent them from over-browning. Decrease your oven temperature in the recipe by 25°F (or 15°C).
Final Thoughts on Baking With Honey
Honey is a natural sweetener with an exponential variety of flavors, plus a better nutritional profile. Try experimenting with some of these recipes:
Traditional German Black Forest Cake Recipe
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