The difference between raw, local, unpasteurized honey and the bear-shaped squeeze bottle in the supermarket may be the difference between a mere topping and a health-boosting golden superfood. Just ask the growing number of honey enthusiasts, from beekeeping purists to local connoisseurs. Consuming raw, local honey has been credited with keeping allergies at bay and giving the overall immune system a major boost.
The key to reaping honey’s health benefits is getting the stuff locally: Forget the mass-marketed versions, which are often diluted with corn syrup or soy. Store-bought honey is also heat-treated or pasteurized for shelf stability. Local honey is what the allergy-prone and holistic health seekers use to capture naturally-occurring antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Folk legend has it that a spoonful of honey a day will keep the sniffles away but recently the popular remedy has been getting more traction, especially as locavore eating and natural, organic foods have soared in popularity. Science hasn’t proven that this works, but believers swear by the effects.
Mike Massino bottles honey at his East Islip farm Organics Today and has seen demand increase sharply over the last two years.
“I just know from talking to my customers that it does help them,” Mike said, explaining that most customers directly ingest a tablespoon per day, unheated, as allergy-fighting medicine. The pollen harvested by the bees theoretically desensitizes the body’s immune system and blunts the response to seasonal symptoms. Mike’s bees feed on everything from maple to pumpkin blossoms like most Long Island honeybees, while bees that produce monofloral honey feed on a single plant.
Large-scale commercial manufacturers combine honey from different places to achieve a consistent and smooth texture as well as treat it with some degree of heat. Backyard keepers or small farmers typically don’t do anything besides extract and filter out big chunks of honeycomb. Honey changes from place to place and even year to year depending on the weather. Extreme cold, heat or rain can affect which flowers the hive can access. In other words, you’ll never get the same bottle of honey twice.
“I live on one side of Lake Ronkonkoma and the honey I make tastes completely different than my neighbor’s on the other side of the lake,” said George Schramm, president of the Long Island Beekeepers Club.
A dark amber-colored honey from Woodside Orchards in Aquebogue had a deep, floral and woodsy taste and although sweet, wasn’t cloying. The honey was viscous and paired perfectly with goat cheese. A straw-hued sample from Goodale Farms in Riverhead was lighter and more syrupy, and worked well as a sweetener.
Even if honey ultimately isn’t proven to have the miraculous properties some of the health foodists claim, it is still an impressive foodstuff. It never goes bad and even works as a topical antibiotic ointment on skin wounds and burns. George recommends to those who want to experiment with honey as an allergy fighter to take a spoonful of local honey each day. Rather than swallowing it, he says to let it dissolve under your tongue in hopes that the small pollen particles will enter directly into your bloodstream, kind of like nature’s allergy shot.
And if it doesn’t work, you still have a delicious and versatile topping for everything from oatmeal, to desserts, to yogurt. Or you can eat it straight from the jar. You know, for your health.
Remember: Don’t feed babies under one year of age honey. There is a slight risk of botulism.
The Long Island Beekeepers Club maintains a database of local sellers on their website longislandbeekeepers.org and farmers’ markets almost always have one or more honey vendors.