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Top 10 Things You Can Make with Honey

We all know that bees make the thick, golden honey we love to eat, but do you know how they make it? See more pictures of insects.
©iStockphoto.com/luis marcelo de la torre martin

Think honey is nothing more than nature's green tea sweetener? There are dozens of uses for the golden, sticky stuff, if you look beyond that cup of Lipton. People have been eating honey for ages, using it in baking, cooking, home remedies and yes, beverages. Our philosophy is simple: Everything is better (and sweeter) with a touch of honey.

Most folks know that honey comes from the nectar of flowering plants, but the details of how it's actually produced might surprise you. When bees collect the nectar, they swallow it and store it in a special honey stomach. They then regurgitate the nectar and pass it on to other worker bees, who repeat the process until it's ready to be applied to the honeycomb. In a way, honey is bee puke, but it's hands down the most delicious type of vomit on the planet.

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So what can you do with those teddy bear-shaped bottles cluttering up the pantry? Sure, you can add a spoonful of honey to a serving of Greek yogurt, but to learn about 10 more interesting things you can make with honey listed in no particular order, read on.

Honey is always a sweet treat, but for a rich topping on bread, potatoes or vegetables, we recommend whipping up some honey butter at home. It's one of the easiest -- and yummiest -- things you can make with honey. (If you're from the South, or if you've ever eaten soul food, you know what we're talking about.) Honey butter is commonly served with starchy foods, like cornbread, biscuits, muffins and pancakes, but it's good on virtually everything.

The recipe is so simple it almost doesn't deserve to be called a recipe. Just whisk together four parts room-temperature butter with one part honey. If you just want to make a small batch, use a stick of butter and 2 tablespoons of honey. Because the sweetness of honey can be highly variable, play with the ratios to find one that's to your liking. And for a more complex flavor, try adding a bit of vanilla extract or cinnamon.

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Tea isn't the only hot beverage that tastes better with a few drops of honey. For a cocktail that's easy on the taste buds and is sure to warm you up, try ordering a hot toddy on a cold winter's night. Although it's a popular cold-weather drink, you'll be hard-pressed to find two bartenders who can agree on a hot toddy recipe. It's one of the more loosely defined cocktails on the drink list, but nearly all hot toddy recipes call for a combination of the following: hot water or tea, honey, lemon juice and a splash of whiskey or brandy.

Most doctors we know are unlikely to prescribe alcoholic beverages, but the hot toddy is still a very common cold and flu remedy, because it's said to soothe a sore throat, ease congestion and, of course, help you conk out. The danger is that because the cocktail's honey helps it slide down so easily, you might forget that you're tossing back hard liquor. So pace yourself. Aren't you supposed to be sick?

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Legend has it that the natural sweetener we're so fond of was used by ancient civilizations to embalm their dead for sweet eternity. Nowadays, honey's preservative properties help to keep baked goods fresh, so leave the mummies in the museums and try baking a loaf of honey challah (pronounced hah-lah). Challah is a traditional Jewish braided loaf that's typically served with the Sabbath dinner, but it's good to snack on any time, and it makes a particularly tasty French toast.

Although we prefer honey challah, some recipes call for sugar. If you want to substitute honey for sugar, just remember to reduce the water accordingly, so the dough doesn't become too gooey. If you want to add a glaze that will give the bread a sweet and crisp outer coating, mix a few teaspoons of honey with an egg yolk and brush it onto the loaf before baking.

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Is there such a thing as a turkey sandwich without honey-mustard sauce? Would summer be the same if honey barbecue sauce had never been invented? No and no. Salad dressing is where honey comes into its own, and sauces are where it thrives.

It's no secret that honey and pork go well together. Need some proof? Try brushing a healthy amount of honey on pork tenderloin before putting it in the oven. Honey is also the key ingredient in many homemade barbecue sauces. Instead of using store-bought barbecue sauce, next time you fire up the grill try stirring a couple spoonfuls of honey together with apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and lemon juice for a tangy and sweet sauce. In salad dressing, try adding a few drops of honey to vinaigrette for some added sweetness and to help thicken it up. (Also, your kids will probably be more likely to ask for seconds of salad if there's a touch of honey in the dressing.)

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Looking for a buzz? Mead, or honey wine, is one of the oldest types of alcohol known to man, and it's still as tasty as ever. You can find mead at most wine shops, but if you really want to impress your friends, try brewing a few bottles yourself.

The beauty of mead brewing is its simplicity; all you really need is some honey, unchlorinated water, wine yeast and a fermentation bucket. If this is your first flirtation with mead, you'll probably want to start with a smaller batch of about a gallon (3.8 liters). First-timers can find some great tutorials online. And remember: as with beer brewing, sanitation is key. Everything you use -- buckets, tubes, bottles -- must be sterilized.

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So how does mead taste, anyway? It tastes like, well, honey-flavored wine. The flavor can be as variable as any beer or wine, depending on how it's made. For example, to give it a different flavor complexion, you can add some spices, like cinnamon or nutmeg. And if you're feeling a little more ambitious, you can try making sparkling mead.

Sweetened soup? Of course! Honey is a common ingredient in lightly sweet bisques, all sorts of carrot, fruit, sweet potato and squash soups, and in soups flavored with curry, ginger or chipotle seasoning.

It doesn't have to make it sweet, of course (although you'll certainly find dessert soups out there). It can simply make it more complex and balanced. In parsnip or cauliflower soups, honey adds a touch of sweetness that softens the potential bitterness of the main ingredient, and spicy soups benefit from the added, touch-of-sweet dimension that you'd probably only notice if it weren't there. Try drizzling a bit of honey on your favorite spicy soup (or chili!) recipe just before serving for a whole new take on a winter classic.

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A sweet bonus to honey is the thickness. Because honey is so viscous, it can help create a thicker soup for recipes served at lukewarm or room temperature.

Lots of people think of baked beans as a molasses-flavored dish, but molasses is really only one option in this barbecue-picnic standby. Honey is a wonderful way to help sweeten baked beans while producing something a little different from the norm.

Because honey is not as strong-tasting as molasses, it can open you up to an interesting variety of flavors. Lots of chipotle-, mesquite-, rum-, and bourbon-flavored bean recipes call for honey, often in addition to, but sometimes instead of, molasses.

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Keep in mind that honey can produce a lighter end result. If your beans must be dark, use the darkest honey you can find. Buckwheat honey is one of darkest.

One way to ensure a moist banana bread? Make sure the recipe calls for honey!

All sorts of quick breads -- from banana, zucchini and corn to beer, herbed and cheesy -- benefit from the sweetness and texture of honey. Honey adds a distinct but mild flavor to quick-baking, non-yeast breads, which can be delightfully easy to prepare (no waiting, no kneading!).

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Honey is sweet but not too-sweet, so it's perfect for the more savory flavor profiles, such as the cheddar bread you serve with those honey-baked beans, and it helps achieve the moistness that is a necessity for any great quick bread. You'll also find the bread stays fresher longer, since, as we already know, honey acts as a natural preservative.

The ooey-gooey quality of honey makes it uniquely suited to a particular type of baked good: the soft, chewy snack bar.

Honey retains its moist, sticky, flexible texture even after baking, which means granola bars, trail mix bars and cereal bars are prime honey products. It's incredibly easy to make your own, healthier alternative to the store-bought kind: You're basically just tossing together oats and/or other whole grains, honey, an egg, butter or oil and whatever delicious bits of snacking you have in the kitchen. The crunch of nuts and seeds and the tartness of dried cherries or unsweetened cranberries are perfect complements to honey's unique texture and sweetness.

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You can easily vary both the sweetness and the chewiness by increasing or decreasing the amount of honey you put in without damaging the outcome, so feel free to customize at will.

One of the most obvious -- and tastiest -- uses of honey is in sweets. Cookies and cakes lend themselves beautifully to the ultra-sweet taste and gooey texture of honey.

Honey is even sweeter than sugar, and it has its own unique flavor. There are loads of recipes that call specifically for honey as the main sweetener instead of white sugar, which is especially appealing to those looking for a more natural sweetener in their baked desserts.

Don't think you have to set aside your favorite recipes if you want to get the honey in there, though. You can experiment with honey as a substitute: For each cup of sugar in the recipe, use 3/4 cup plus one tablespoon of honey. Keep a close eye on baking time, because honey-based sweets will often brown faster than sugar-based ones. The result won't taste exactly the same as the original recipe, but you may find you love the new angle on an old favorite.

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