Most of us think of white sugar from sugar cane and sugar beets as somehow less natural than honey. Perhaps because they are not produced by hairy insects?
But chemically, there is quite a difference. Sugar cane and sugar beets are loaded with sucrose, whereas honey’s sugars are primarily fructose (39 percent), glucose, (31 percent), and maltose (7 percent), with only 1.5 percent sucrose. In addition, 4 percent of honey consists of other carbohydrates and small amounts of minerals, vitamins, and enzymes.
Most of the rest (17 percent) is water, making honey a supersaturated solution of sugars. That is, there is more sugar dissolved in the water than the water should ordinarily hold. That’s why the excess sugar will “undissolve” slowly and fall out as crystals (the honey becomes granulated) when stored for long periods of time. It’s mainly the glucose that initiates the crystallization process.
Actually, I love the crunchiness of granulated honey. Storing it between 50 and 70°F (10 and 21°C) will hasten crystallization; higher and lower temperatures discourage it. Take your choice.
Among its enzymes, honey contains invertase, which converts sucrose to a mixture of glucose and fructose, or invert sugar.
Another enzyme in honey is arnylase, which breaks starch down into smaller units. Honey also contains small amounts of all the B vitamins and vitamin C, plus the minerals potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and traces of others.
The healthful reputation of honey is undoubtedly attributable to these minor constituents plus its content of flavonoid antioxidants. Medical history has credited honey with a variety of therapeutic and antibacterial qualities. Moreover, honey is much more interesting than ordinary sugar because it has an intriguing variety of flavors, depending on which local nectar bars the bees are in the habit of frequenting.
Unfortunately, as an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, honey is a good breeding ground for Clostridium botulinurn, the bacterium that manufactures botulin toxin, a deadly poison. Bees may pick up C. botulinurn spores while foraging (they are found in soil) and incorporate them into their honey.
Human adults, with their fully developed immune systems and intestinal bacteria that destroy such spores, can handle a reasonable number of them, but babies under one year of age can’t and may contract infantile botulism. It’s a rare occurrence, but why take the chance? Feeding honey to your little Honey is just not worth it. And as one source put it, chances are your baby is already sweet enough.