First of all, let’s acknowledge that honey is a gift from the gods and an astounding food for us. We are very lucky to count it among our allies in health and wellness. And, if we take good stewardship of the bees who make it, honey is free for the taking! How great is that?!
Why is it “bad” to heat honey?
Honey should never be raised to a temperature above ~115° F because that heats the honey past its raw state, and this heating transforms honey into something fundamentally different. In fact, it becomes ama (a toxin to the body).
From John Douillard’s LifeSpa website:
“Ayurveda suggests to eat only raw, unfiltered, uncooked honey. It is said that if honey is raw it can scrub impurities from the body. Once it is heated, it changes its properties and becomes an indigestible, toxic substance Ayurveda calls ama.
“Beekeepers routinely spray diluted raw honey on the hive to calm the bees before managing the hive. Interestingly, in one report, when bee keepers sprayed cooked and filtered honey on the hive within 20 minutes a significant number of the bees sprayed were dead. While this was not a scientific study, it does allude to the drastic alteration that occurs in the processing of honey and concurrent removing of pollen.”
“Raw honey is an alkaline-forming food that contains natural vitamins, enzymes, powerful antioxidants and other important natural nutrients. These are the very nutrients that are destroyed during the heating and pasteurization process. In fact, pasteurized honey is equivalent to and just as unhealthy as eating refined sugar.
“Raw honey has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. It promotes body and digestive health, is a powerful antioxidant, strengthens the immune system, eliminates allergies, and is an excellent remedy for skin wounds and all types of infections. Raw honey’s benefits don’t stop there. Raw honey can also stabilize blood pressure, balance sugar levels, relieve pain, calm nerves, and it has been used to treat ulcers. Raw honey is also an expectorant and anti-inflammatory and has been known to effectively treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma.”
Buying Honey from a Store or Farmer’s Market
When you buy honey from a store or a farmer’s market, be aware that although it may say “raw”, it may not BE raw. The pasteurization process requires temperatures of 161 °F (72 °C) or higher. It is, of course, easier to bottle jars of honey when the honey is warmer and thus flows easier. It is not uncommon to find honey that has been heated to a temperature higher than 115° F but lower than 161° F and is thus technically “raw.” But it is not truly raw. If, when you hold a jar of honey up to your eye, you are able to clearly see your fingers on the other side of the jar, it is NOT truly raw.
Take another look at the image at the top of this post. You will notice that, yes, this is a very dark honey, but there is no way you could see through it. You can’t even see the light bulb that is right behind it. You can, however, see the thick, rich goodness of the healthy constituents found in honey.
Cooking with Honey
As an extension of this philosophy, never cook with honey since cooking raises the temperature of honey well past 115° F. Think of baked goods, which are routinely cooked at ~350° F. Honey that has been warmed up to 115+° F is a toxin to the body. Avoid it. If you come across a recipe that lists cooking with honey, you can simply substitute with maple syrup.
Drinking Hot Beverages with Honey
For those of us who like to add honey to warm beverages, such as tea, this is also something to keep in mind. You should wait until the tea has cooled down to ~115°F before adding any honey to it. This works out because 115° F is approximately the temperature that is comfortable for drinking the tea. So, heat your water, add it to your tea (or vice-versa), let it steep and cool down, THEN add your honey, and enjoy.