Simple but complex. This dichotomy exemplifies the value honey brings to the food and beverage industry.

Honey is simple in its essence. It's produced by honey bees in a hive. The ingredient is natural, and when used in an assortment of food and beverage products, honey is simply listed as "honey." However, honey's flavour varieties, composition and functionalities give bakers countless product formulation opportunities, making the ingredient's complexity a significant asset.

Honey is a nutritive sweetener composed of numerous sugars, including fructose (38 per cent), glucose (31 per cent), maltose (7.2 per cent) and sucrose (1.5 per cent). The colour and flavour of honey differ depending on the bees' nectar source.

Honey is more calorie-dense than its closest competitor, cane sugar, which is 100 per cent sucrose. A tablespoon of honey has 64 calories, compared to 46 calories for sugar. But honey is almost twice as sweet as sugar, allowing a formulator to get by with less, and it provides a similarly smooth, rich mouthfeel. And honey has a somewhat healthier glycaemic index, with a 55 GI ranking compared to 61 for sugar.

There are more than 300 unique kinds of honey in the United States, originating from such diverse floral sources as clover, eucalyptus and orange blossoms. This complex set of variations on a single taste theme allows food manufacturers to launch complete product lines of honey-sweetened foods, all with slightly different flavour profiles. For example, a product with buckwheat honey offers a robust flavour, while a clover or alfalfa honey provides a simpler, lighter honey taste. In general, lighter coloured honeys are mild, while darker honeys are stronger in flavour.

Besides imparting positive flavour and functional attributes, honey also helps food manufacturers launch products that conform to dominant consumer trends. Today's consumers want products that are natural, familiar and have a clean label.

There is a certain trust that goes into products with ingredients to which consumers can relate. This especially holds true for sweeteners, which have recently been put under the microscope by consumers, the government and food manufacturers. Fortunately, honey's usage as a natural sweetener conforms to consumers' desires for a product that is both natural and has a familiar name with positive connotations.

Honey's familiarity also proves beneficial for food manufacturers trying to clean up and minimise their ingredient listings. Due to its ability to impart functional and flavour attributes, honey can be used as an important ingredient in a variety of clean-label products.

Applications aplenty
Honey usage in the food and beverage industry runs the gamut from whole grain bagels to hard candy. In the baking industry, honey has many uses, from serving as a natural sweetener to retaining moisture in cakes. The recent growth of breads and rolls with whole and ancient grains has caused bakers to look to honey's sweet flavour profile to mask the sometimes bitter flavour notes that whole grains impart. In these products, honey also serves as an exceptional marketing tool with many bakers using "honey" to enhance a product's name, such as "honey whole wheat bread."

In snack foods, especially salty snacks, honey is used to complement an assortment of flavours, from barbecue to chipotle. In savory snacks and food bars, honey is used as a natural sweetener in products positioned toward consumers looking to make all-natural product decisions.

Honey's usage in the food and beverage industry continues to grow as consumer trends run parallel to the ingredient's many benefits. For more information on honey and its many uses, visit www.honey.com

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