When it comes to sweeteners, there are two that stand out from the rest of the sweet-toothed crowd. In the war between honey and sugar, it really comes down to a few key differences to help you decide which one should grace your plate. We took a close look at both before ultimately deciding to go with honey to sweeten our breakfast bars. Here’s why.
Where Does Honey Come From?
Most people know that honey comes from bees, but do you know how honey gets from the hive to our breakfast bars?
Honey starts from the nectar (a sugary liquid) of different flowering plants. As the honey bees fly around from flower to flower, they use their tongues, which are shaped like long tubes (scientifically known as a proboscis), to suck the nectar into their “honey stomach.”
As they fly back to the hive, the nectar is mixed with specific enzymes that exist in their stomach, which changes both the pH and the chemical composition to make it more suitable for being stored long-term. So, yeah, honey is bee vomit. But, like, really good bee vomit!
Once the honey bees arrive back at the hive, the honey is passed from bee to bee before finding its final home in a honeycomb. But the process doesn’t stop there. The bees then begin to use their wings to fan the honey, which helps remove any excess water and turns it from a watery liquid into the much thicker product we’re all familiar with. The honey is covered with beeswax for storage, where it waits to be used as a food source by either the bees or for human consumption.
If you’re a connoisseur of all things sweet, then you probably know that there are different varieties of honey, too. The different tastes actually come from the type of flower nectar used, and things like color, texture, and smell are also affected. That’s why lavender honey tastes and smells so different from clover honey. There are at least 300 different types of honey that have been identified so far, and there are sure to be more.
Overall, honey requires less processing to get it ready to use than sugar does, which is what makes it better than sugar, especially if you’re following a more natural diet.
What Are The Benefits Of Using Honey As A Sweetener?
Nutritionally, honey is made of carbohydrates that are composed mostly of fructose and glucose. It also contains small amounts of B vitamins, enzymes, minerals, amino acids, and vitamin C. That means you don’t have to worry about getting your sugar fix—it’s basically healthy.
Honey is composed of flavonoids, which is a plant chemical that is a type of antioxidant. Many people believe that this lends honey anti-inflammatory properties.
One of the major benefits of honey as a sweetener is that it takes far less of it to sweeten things, probably because honey contains more fructose than glucose, which tends to be the sweeter of the two. For people trying to watch their blood sugar, using less is a major reason they make the switch from refined sugar to honey. While honey does have more calories than sugar, the fact that you can use far less for the same effect really evens out the playing field.
Honey also has a lower Glycemic Index (or GI), which is a way that foods are rated based on how they affect the body’s blood sugar levels. Lower GIs mean that the sugars from that food absorb and enter into the bloodstream slower, resulting in fewer energy crashes and a lower impact on blood glucose levels. Sounds good to us!
Want to hear about a really weird benefit of honey? In its raw, unpasteurized form, it may contain small amounts of pollen from the local environment. For those who suffer from seasonal allergies, eating raw honey might help reduce their sensitivity and lead to fewer allergic reactions. Be careful where you’re sourcing your honey from if you’re going to try this one out, though.
Honey is said to have antimicrobial properties, meaning it may kill germs and even help wounds and burns heal more quickly. And who hasn’t had a warm cup of tea with honey to soothe a sore throat? Yeah, honey basically has superpowers.
What Does Sugar Come From?
Unlike honey, which is a natural product made from bees, sugar is processed from either the sugarcane plant or sugarbeets. Because sugarcane is a naturally tropical plant, most sugarcane farms are located in warmer areas of the United States, like Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Texas. Sugarbeets are much more hardy and are found in cooler climates like Michigan, Idaho, Nebraska, and Washington.
With sugarcane, the sugar starts as a byproduct of photosynthesis in the leaves. Once created, it moves to the stalk and is stored temporarily as a sweet juice, kind of like early-stage honey. Some time after that, the sugarcane is harvested from the field and taken to a processing facility.
Once the sugarcane stalks arrive at the processing factory, the cane juice is extracted. It then goes through a purification process before being filtered and allowed to crystallize. At this phase, it is known as “raw” sugar and is a golden brown color—yes, like the kind in the earthy-looking brown packets. From there, the raw sugar is taken to a different facility, known as a refinery.
For sugar that comes from sugarbeets, it’s the roots that do the heavy lifting. The top of the beet is cut off before being sent out for processing. Once they arrive, they are washed thoroughly, sliced, and boiled to extract the sugar. Then, much like the process sugarcane goes through, the sugar is filtered and crystallized.
There are a few different kinds of sugar out there—brown (mixed with molasses), white, powdered, turbinado, and muscovado. The vast majority of the sugar that goes into the products we buy at the store is traditional refined white sugar.
The Drawbacks Of Refined Sugars
Like honey, sugar is made of both fructose and glucose. In sugar, though, these chemicals bond together to form a third sugar known as sucrose. That means sugar is also categorized as a carbohydrate—bad news for anyone who’s trying to cut carbs.
Unfortunately, a diet full of too much refined sugar can lead to a higher risk of various health problems, from heart disease to obesity to diabetes. It is often added to products that you might not be aware of, like ketchup, which means that the American diet is much more full of sugar than most people think. We’re talking, like, loaded with sugar.
When you eat refined sugars, you feel a quick burst of energy. While this is a great feeling, especially if you’re feeling sluggish or run down, that energy burst is quickly followed by a sugar crash as your glucose drops sharply, which is a massive downer in the middle of the workday. Refined sugar is also harder for the body to process than honey because sugar lacks the enzymes that honey has. That means that your body has to work harder to process it, using its own enzymes, which is why eating large amounts of sugar tends to make you feel gross.
On a surface level (pun intended), sugar is also one of the main factors that can influence acne on the skin. The bacteria that causes acne literally feeds on sugar, so giving it a steady diet can make acne worse and even more persistent. To that, we say no thanks.
Honey Vs. Sugar In Foods
When talking about the differences between honey and sugar, we also want to look at how it can affect the foods made with it. It’s one thing to enjoy a cup of tea with a bit of honey or sugar, but does it work the same when being added to foods like breakfast bars?
One of the biggest advantages that honey has over sugar when it comes to recipes is taste. Sugar just tastes sweet and doesn’t really have much depth of flavor. Honey, especially when considering all the different varieties of it, adds a unique flavor to whatever it is added to. It also takes far less to add that flavor, so you get much more bang for your buck (or taste for your bar, as the case may be).
It also impacts the nutrition of the product. Because honey is easier to digest than sugar, your body can get to work converting it to energy instead of following a multi-step process to prepare it for use. With sugar, your body practically needs an instruction manual to figure out what to do with it.
When you shop products with simple, natural ingredients, you’ll get all of the taste without all the extra processing and wait time. It’s eat and go, and who doesn’t want that in a healthy breakfast or snack?
The Final Takeaway
When it comes to deciding between sugar and honey, honey takes the cake (or maybe we should say breakfast bar). Whether it’s used to sweeten your tea or as an ingredient in one of our breakfast bars, the nutritional benefits far outweigh refined sugar. Try one of our bars today, and experience the difference a healthy sweetener can make—you’re still getting a kick-ass taste, you’re just accompanying it with some kick-ass ingredients.