Honey is a naturally sweet, viscous liquid made from the nectar of flowers and collected by honey bees. It comes in numerous varieties with different colours, textures and flavours. The flavour, colour and sweetness of honey depend on which type of flower the nectar was collected from.
Everyday honey is a commodity product, perhaps a mixture of what is cheapest from several countries. Standard honey is heat-processed and finely filtered, which makes it stay liquid. Otherwise, it can be purposefully crystallised and sold as ‘set honey’ - the kind that you spread with a knife. Clear (or 'runny') honey and set honey have different textures because of the varying amounts of natural sugars contained in each of them. Specialist honey comes from bees that have been set to work harvesting nectar in a specific place. They are simply warmed and gently filtered so that more of the taste and nutritional goodness stays in the pot.
There is a huge choice of honeys available. These include Scottish heather honey, acacia honey and French chestnut honey, plus a wide range from countries around the globe. It's worth asking the honey producer about the honey you're buying because the taste of honey varies according to the nectar it's made from. Since bees gather the honey from within only a few miles of their hives, beekeepers are able to influence where and upon what the bees feed and the final style and flavour the honey will have. To do this, they will put their hives in specific places, such as heather moorlands in Scotland, Northumbria and Dartmoor.
Honey will keep in the larder for up to one year. Clear honey has a tendency to crystallise over time; just put the jar in a jug of hot water for a minute or so and it will return to its clear and liquid state. Crystallisation does not affect the honey's quality.
Clear honey is often easier to use for cooking because it’s easier to pour. Use honey as a sweetener to replace sugar in desserts, drinks and baking: it has a particular affinity with milk products such as yoghurt and cheese. You can also use honey as a flavouring in ice cream, but be aware that it freezes at a lower temperature than ordinary sugar: this will affect the texture slightly but by using a combination of honey and sugar you can overcome this problem.
In savoury dishes, use honey as the basis of a sticky marinade for pork or chicken, but be careful once it goes in the oven because honey burns relatively quickly. One tip is to drain off the marinade before cooking, then pour it over the food halfway through cooking for a beautifully lacquered finish. Honey also makes a delicious glaze for roast pork, sausages or parsnips. Heat destroys some of the quality of good honeys, so it is better to use specialist honeys in uncooked foods in which you can taste the difference.
Some non-meat eaters, especially vegans, do not eat honey, since it is a product derived from animals.