KANSAS CITY — Honey already has gained a natural perception among most Americans. Now, food companies may consider tacking on other promotional benefits when using it as a sweetener in their products. Honey may enhance the flavor of whole grain products, and it may qualify for such claims as non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. or Fair Trade.
The U.S. grain-based foods industry uses honey by the dozens of millions of pounds each year. Research gathered by the National Honey Board, Firestone, Colo., and Technomic, Chicago, found the ready-to-eat and hot cereal industry used 17.8 million lbs of honey in 2015. Bread and doughs accounted for another 15.3 million lbs of honey, and snack/nutrition/granola bars accounted for 10.3 million lbs. The categories trailed packaged cold beverages at 26 million lbs and beer at 25.4 million lbs.
Honey has become an essential ingredient when formulating products with whole grains, said Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board.
“It’s why there are so many honey whole wheat breads on the marketplace,” she said. “Most consumers still find whole grains and ancient grains to have off-flavor profiles compared to traditional, enriched flours. However, with honey included in whole grain formulas, the sweetener smooths out any off-flavors and creates an exceptional flavor profile.
“From a functional standpoint, honey’s use in the whole grain products extends well beyond sweetening and includes increasing the shelf life of bakery foods through the three main factors that help maintain crumb softness: preventing moisture transfer, delaying starch recrystallization and hydrolyzing starch. Liquid honey is hygroscopic and enables products to maintain their moisture content far longer than products that use dry sweeteners.”
Each honey varietal offers a unique flavor profile.
“There are more than 300 different types of honey in the United States alone, all unique and dependent on the nectar source or flower where the bee foraged,” Ms. Barry said. “This versatility gives manufacturers the opportunity to use honey not only for its functional and sweetening benefits, but also to achieve a very specific flavor and color profile.”
Some darker, more robust varieties of honey work well in whole grain products because the flavor provides a nice balance to the earthy/nutty flavor of the grains, said John Rzeszut, vice-president of marketing for Natural American Foods, Onsted, Mich.
Natural American Foods this year enhanced its global sourcing capabilities by adding honey and agave that is verified by the Non-GMO Project, Bellingham, Wash.
“Consumers are becoming more interested in the origins and processing of their food, and look for third-party certifications to validate the integrity of the supply chain,” Mr. Rzeszut said. “This is a challenge for honey because honey bees can fly up to several miles away from the hive in search of nectar and pollen from flowers. That’s why Natural American Foods works with suppliers who have been verified by the Non-GMO Project and have beehives located in geographically remote areas.”
Fair Trade Certified honey from Natural American Foods ensures that farmers and beekeepers are paid a fair price. The company sources the honey from the Amhara region of Ethiopia.
“Natural American Foods is offering a Fair Trade honey for several reasons,” Mr. Rzeszut said. “First, it offers the ability to make a real impact on the lives of beekeepers in rural Ethiopia. Second, it allows consumers in the U.S. to experience the unique flavors of honey from a different part of the world. Finally, it tastes delicious. It’s very dark in color, with a robust flavor and floral notes. Our Fair Trade honey would be a great addition to bakery products or savory recipes, where the flavor of the honey can really come through instead of just being used as a sweetener.”
Natural American Foods offers many honey varieties, including conventional blends, monofloral varieties, certified organic, Non-GMO Project verified and Fair Trade Certified, he said.
93% say honey is natural
For natural qualifications, people viewed honey as the most natural of nine sweeteners in a 2015 consumer research survey from the National Honey Board. The survey found 93% of respondents said they viewed honey as natural. Honey led agave nectar and molasses, which tied for second place at 68%.
The survey found 48% of people indicated they were at least somewhat willing to pay more for products sweetened with honey. Fifty-nine per cent said they were willing to pay more for bread with honey, including 21% who said they would pay 10% more, and 53% who said they were willing to pay more for food bars with honey.
Taking care of the honey makers has become more of an issue recently. Honey bee colonies for operations with five or more colonies totaled 2.59 million in the United States on Jan. 1, which was down 8% from 2.82 million colonies on Jan. 1, 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The National Honey Board each year commits 5% of its anticipated revenue to fund research projects aimed at helping beekeepers find solutions to challenges like colony collapse disorder and external factors affecting honey bees and their development, Ms. Barry said.
Natural American Foods serves as a “Queen Bee” sponsor for an annual symposium on bee health held at the University of California, Davis, Mr. Rzeszut said.