Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Substituting honey

We feel a lot better about eating honey than granulated sugar. We believe that foods that are less processed and more homegrown are generally a lot healthier than their conventional counterparts (not just healthier for us directly, but healthier for communities and ecosystems, too). Perhaps you share our inclinations, and so the question we want to address here is: how does a person go about substituting honey for sugar, i.e. using less sugar and more honey? Some of the answers are as simple as realizing where the sugar (or corn syrup) in your diet is.
Honey is great for sweetening hot and cold drinks. In the summertime we like to keep a gallon of honey-sweetened peppermint tea in the fridge. Honey can, of course, be used to sweeten any kind of tea as well as lemonade or homemade grape juice. Honey is especially nice for mixing in cold drinks like lemonade, because honey's already fully liquid, so you don't get the granular mouth feel of sugar added to cold lemonade. It's easier to mix the honey in if the liquid isn't fully chilled, but when we make tea we do like to let the tea cool down a little before mixing the honey in so as to better preserve the floral aromas of the honey.
One of the honey substitutions that most consistently impresses guests at our table is our standard salad dressing. We'll fill a quart jar about a quarter full with olive oil (that's 1 cup), then add half as much honey and cider vinegar (or 1/2 measuring cup of each). Then we add about a teaspoon each of salt and ground mustard, plus a little black pepper, and shake it all up. That's our standard recipe, but try substituting honey for any of your own dressing recipes or marinades.
Where our family probably consumes the greatest amount of honey, though, is as a substitute for store-bought breakfast cereals. One of our favorite breakfasts -- and it's quick and easy -- is a bowl of "quick" oats ("quick" oats are cut more finely, so they're less chewy and pasty than uncooked regular rolled oats) with cold milk or yogurt, sweetened with honey, and enhanced with whatever fruit (fresh or dried) or nuts are handy. Even simpler and a common snack for the kids or for us is a bowl of plain yogurt sweetened with tulip-poplar honey. (Plain yogurt, by the way, is cheap and easy to make, if you're so inclined.)
Another easy way to use honey in place of sugar is in canned goods, especially canned fruit. When making syrup to can peaches or pears, for example, we use honey in place of all the sugar. We also use a little honey in our pickled beets and sometimes in applesauce, if we want to sweeten it any further.
Honey has more concentrated sweetness than granulated sugar, so a little more than 3/4 cup of honey (about 10 ounces by weight) will sweeten a recipe as much as a full cup of sugar. If you have a good kitchen scale, it may be easier to pour out a given weight of honey instead of trying to measure out the honey by volume -- it can go straight from the jar to the mixing bowl without anything to stick to in between. Just put your mixing bowl straight on the scale, tare out the scale if that's easy, and pour the honey straight in until you reach the right number of ounces.  One cup of honey will weigh very nearly 12 ounces.
Baked goods can be a slightly trickier category for substitutions because more chemistry is at play than just sweetening effect. With a lot of baked goods recipes we'll substitute just a third or half of the sugar with honey. Flan (a simple custardy dessert) is greatly enhanced by the flavor of honey when substituted for the sugar.
And, last but certainly not least, honey makes for delicious homemade ice cream! We like to use about a half pound of honey (7-1/2 ounces by weight, to be exact) for every quart of liquid (milk/cream/pureed fruit).

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