Honey appeals strongly to consumers and offers real benefits to products formulated to be natural, clean-label and even gluten-free. “Simply put, honey tastes great, delivers many functional benefits to bakery foods and appeals to consumers looking for indulgent, sweet products with clean labels and natural ingredients,” said Catherine Barry, director of marketing, National Honey Board, Firestone, CO.

Honey contains naturally occurring organic acids, including gluconic acid, that enhance the flavors of spices, fruits and nuts. It brings out the tastes and aromas of cinnamon, herbs, spices and other flavors.

But its functionality extends well beyond sweetening, Ms. Barry explained. It increases shelf life by maintaining crumb softness through preventing moisture transfer, delaying starch recrystallization and hydrolyzing starch. With an average water activity of 0.55, honey acts as a natural humectant.

“Honey, by design, does not give up its water easily,” she said.

Another interesting aspect of honey is its natural amylase content. This component promotes crumb softness effectively by hydrolyzing starch, thus contributing to moisture retention.

“Honey’s fructose content also holds in a baked food’s moisture,” Ms. Barry said. “And the ingredient’s high acidity, with an average pH of 3.91, inhibits mold growth.”

A few processing aspects must be considered. Honey’s sugars are precursors to the Maillard reaction, thus providing natural color and browning to the finished product. Ms. Barry advised bakers to reduce oven temperatures by up to 25°F to prevent over-browning. When using honey, bakers also often have to reduce the liquid to account for honey’s average moisture content of about 17%.

Honey is best stored in a sealed container at room temperature, between 64 and 75°F. “Cooler temperatures, between 35 and 60°F, hasten honey’s natural crystallization process,” Ms. Barry said. Honey stored at temperatures above 85°F for extended periods of time will darken in color and be subject to subtle flavor changes.

Dry, free-flowing powder forms of honey and molasses provide ease of use, according to Brook Carson, technical product manager, ADM, Overland Park, KS. “Because these products are dry, they are not affected by temperature,” she said. “They can be used at room temperature and would not need to be heated like liquid honey or molasses before being used.”

Dry honey and molasses can be stored under normal warehouse conditions and scaled like other dry ingredients.

Changing a formulation liquid to dry format for these sweeteners does not require any additional equipment or change in process, according to Ms. Carson. Most replacements, including that of HFCS or other corn syrups, can be on a pound-for-pound basis with the addition of 0.5 to 1.0 lb of water for every pound of dry sweetener used.

“You do not need to pre-hydrate the dry sweetener before it is added,” she said, “and the additional water can increase the yield of the finished product.”