North America has thousands of kinds of native bees, but honeybees were not among them until European settlers imported hives from the Old World. It’s easy to see why these colonists went to the trouble of shipping bees across the Atlantic some 400 years ago: Honey is a perfect natural sweetener that needs no processing and never spoils — even after thousands of years in an Egyptian tomb, as archaeologists have discovered.
More reasons to love honey include the facts that it’s a fat-free source of quick energy, needs no special storage and tastes delicious.
Today, there are more than 300 unique types of honey being produced in the United States, according to the National Honey Board. Varietal honeys come from bees that feed on a single flower crop, such as star thistle, lavender, sage or orange blossoms. Other honeys are made by bees that gather pollen more widely.
What color should your honey be? Almost any shade, from nearly clear to dark amber, is acceptable. Darker-colored honeys tend to be more strongly flavored than lighter ones, which are more likely to taste mild.
The culinary applications for honey are just about as vast as the variety. Honey adds moist sweetness to breads, cakes and cookies and provides dimension to sauces, marinades and delicious dressings.
Honey makes a delightful spread on toast and a flavorful alternative to sugar in hot and cold beverages — including cocktails, such as honey gimlets and honey rums.
You can use any kind of honey in this simple cake recipe. The proportions below will give you a tender cake that is not overwhelmingly sweet, making it a good choice for a midmorning snack with coffee or tea. A little whipped cream or crème fràiche adds a nice touch.