When formulating all-natural baked foods, honey makes a sweet choice. Its flavor profile is well-appreciated by consumers and also helps mask bitter flavor notes often carried by whole grain foods. Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board, discusses the benefits honey brings to baked foods and gives tips on formulating with it in this exclusive Baking & Snack Q&A.

Baking & Snack: Which types of baked foods are best for using honey? Why these?
Catherine Barry: Honey is the ideal ingredient to sweeten any bakery food, from breads and rolls to cakes and pastries. We are seeing honey’s popularity grow, especially in all-natural and whole grain products. In whole wheat breads and rolls, honey creates a sweet flavor profile while masking the bitter flavor notes that whole grains can carry.

All-natural products also are using honey to provide the sweetness with an ingredient that is familiar to consumers and does not carry negative perceptions. For indulgent bakery foods, honey helps bakers provide sweetness while still maintaining a clean label.

When a formulator wants to switch from another sweetener to honey, what guidelines will help with the change?
Because of its high fructose content, honey is sweeter than sugar, allowing bakers to use less honey than sugar to achieve the desired sweetness. When substituting honey for sugar in formulas, begin by substituting honey for up to half of the sugar called for in the formulas. Bakers also will have to reduce the oven temperature by 25 F-degrees to prevent over-browning; reduce any liquid called for by 25% for each part of honey used; and add 1% baking soda for each part honey used.

Honey can be used as a complete or partial replacement for almost any sweetener. However, differences in formulas and baking environment make substitution guidelines slightly different dependent on the formula.

In bakery foods, honey performs many roles beyond sweetening bakery foods. Products that contain honey dry out more slowly and have a lesser tendency to crack. This is due to honey’s hygroscopicity. Honey also provides more uniform baking with a more evenly browned crust at lower temperatures as a result of the sweetener’s fructose content.

Honey also imparts an improved aroma at relatively small percentages (up to 6% by weight of the flour) in sweet cakes, biscuits, breads and similar products. The high acidity of honey (avg. pH 3.91) also helps inhibit mold growth in bakery foods and extend shelf life.

Honey naturally coats, binds and thickens products, improving body and mouthfeel. Because it is water soluble, honey is easily added to a variety of mixes and can be pumped or extruded in a variety of manufacturing processes.

What trends have you seen in wholesale bakery use of these two ingredients? Why is this happening? How do you see these product trends playing out in the next few years?

Today’s consumer is more aware than ever about the ingredients in the foods they eat. Honey plays an important role in sweetening bakery foods, giving bakers the opportunity to sweeten their products with an ingredient with exceptional familiarity and trust with consumers. This is very important to a growing segment of consumers who intensely read labels and crave more natural and clean products.

The National Honey Board expects the popularity of honey to increase as the sweetener industry continues to be scrutinized by the media and medical community. Since honey is produced in Mother Nature by bees, manufacturers that sweeten their products with honey don’t have to worry about the perception consumers will have when reading an ingredient listing.