Ask Kirsten – what’s the deal with raw honey?

Raw honey for Ask Kirsten Title Sussex Magazine

Dear Kirsten

I’ve heard that it’s best not to heat or cook with raw honey is it damages some of the nutrients, is this the case?

Jo, Brighton 

Great question, especially as I often recommend raw honey to people. Honey is often described as being the same as white sugar, but actually they are very different, especially when the honey is raw.

Raw honey is unpasteurised (heat treated) and unfiltered. It is brimming over with minerals, B vitamins (no pun intended!), enzymes and antioxidants; all important for health and vitality. Plus some very special nutrients with antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anticancer and anti-allergenic properties, such as polyphenols, pollen, and bee propolis.

Heating raw honey instantly starts to destroy many of these (and micro filtering removes a lot of them too). The minerals – manganese, potassium selenium, iron, zinc and more – will stay intact, but the rest will start to deteriorate.

Ideally, raw honey should never be heated above 42 degrees C or 95 degrees F (for comparison, the equivalent to Gas Mark 1 on an oven is 135 degrees C or 275 degrees F). So ideally, even in herbal tea, wait till the tea is cool enough to drink before you add the honey.

I admit that sometimes I use raw honey in baking. Partly because it’s there in my cupboard, and partly because it’s usually for gentle baking, and so my hope is that not all of these amazing super nutrients are destroyed.

Some would prefer to use cheaper pasteurised honey here rather than waste the ‘good stuff’, but I like to think that my gently baked raw honey is still more nutrient-rich. (Incidentally, you don’t have to spend a fortune on imported Manuka honey – most local honeys are raw and considerably cheaper. I pay about a fiver a pot, and it will last me a few months.)

Kirsten Chick

Kirsten Chick

At other times, I use blackstrap molasses, which is essentially the goodness stripped from cane sugar when they make white sugar. It’s sticky, rich and dark and is steeped in bone strengthening, blood building, brain, liver and heart feeding minerals. Another option is to use fruit in baking, both dried and fresh.

I would always choose whole fruit over fruit juice or fruit syrup, as the fibre helps to slow down the rush of fructose into the body, and so is less likely to affect insulin pathways and contribute to inflammation. My favourite flapjack recipe uses a mixture of molasses and spiced fruit – and is utterly delicious!

Spiced fig and apple squares
200g oats
100g ground pumpkin seeds
2 cooking apples – grated
3 figs – preferably fresh, but if not available, then buy dried and soak them first
100g butter (or about 70g coconut oil)
2tbsp blackstrap molasses
2 cardamom pods (split and crushed)
1/2tsp cinnamon

  1. Halve figs and cut into slices, then pan fry in a little of the butter until soft
  2. Add molasses, butter/coconut oil, spices and grated apples
  3. Stir in oats and pumpkin seeds
  4. Bake in small greased square Pyrex dish or baking tray for 30mins at 160-180 degrees
  5. Leave to cool and slice into squares

The nutritional information in this feature is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

About Kirsten Chick
Kirsten has been talking nutrition for over a decade in workshops, on university and college courses, on retreats and to the hundreds of people who have come for one-to-one consultations