Get to Know a Gluten-Free Ingredient: Honey

Above: A photograph of honey dripping off a honey dipper. Reminds us of cereal for some reason.

In light of the recent release of the White House’s beer recipes, we decided to dive into a gluten free brewing ingredient: Honey.

Honey has been harvested by humans for the past 8000 years. Without getting too second-grade science class-y, honey comes from the nectar of flowers collected by bees. Through a process of regurgitation, the bees convert the sugar-rich nectar into honey with enzymes and digestive acids, hydrolyzing sucrose into monosaccharides. This watery mixture is then put into open honeycomb cells. If left on it’s own, the sugar water would ferment into mead, but the bees use their wings to dry the mixture, evaporating the water and creating a thicker, more sugary syrup. The end result is honey, a solution of mostly fructose and glucose, which is uniquely flavored by the flowers from which the bees collected their nectar.

Honey has also been used for thousands of years to make mead, one of the world’s oldest fermented beverages. Mead is actually quite simple to make: originally, water was simple mixed with honey and left out for several weeks. Naturally occurring yeast, presumably brought by the open air, would ferment the drink and convert the sugars in the honey to alcohol. Nowadays, brewers control the quality of the mead by using specific, isolated strains of yeast and enhance the flavor by adding different ingredients, like fruit and spiced. The basic concept remains the same, though.

Honey is also used in all sorts of foods and desserts. It’s an excellent source of natural sugar and…well, I don’t really need to tell you how great honey is. It can also be used as an adjunct in beer, supplementing the main mash with additional sugars for fermentation. It also brings addition flavors based on the type of the honey and the flowers the bees visited. It’s a interesting addition for the right type of beer, including gluten free varieties–Tweason’ale, Dogfish Head’s sorghum-based gluten free beer, uses honey made from the nectar of buckwheat flowers.

Other Information about Honey

China is the largest producer of honey, supplying nearly a third of the world’s needs (~400,000 metric tons), followed by Turkey, the United States, and the Ukraine. In the US, honey is classified by the USDA into four categories, A, B, C, and Substandard, based upon criteria including flavor, aroma, and water content. Honey has been used for thousands of years for health benefits, including it’s ability to fight infections in wounds due to its antimicrobial characteristics.

That’s all for honey. Let us know what you think (about honey or our NEW WEBSITE) by posting a comment below!