Consumers face a difficult choice when trying to cut added sugars from their diets. Foods formulated to be low in sugar — even those made with high-intensity non-caloric or alternative nutritive sweeteners — tend to lack a certain roundness of flavor. That’s why many such products employ masking agents and flavor enhancer additives.
But when consumers will accept modest calorie counts in return for the reward of pleasing flavor, there’s a sweetener that seems to be designed exactly for them: honey.
“How sweeteners are manufactured and their perceived naturalness have received intense media scrutiny,” said Catherine Barry, director of marketing, National Honey Board, Firestone, CO. “Since honey is produced in nature by bees, manufacturers who sweeten their products with it need not worry about the perception consumers will have when reading an ingredient listing.”
Strictly speaking, honey qualifies as sugar, but among consumers, it enjoys an advantage that other sweeteners lack. Because honey is simply labeled “honey,” it is easy for shoppers to find on product labels. When the National Honey Board surveyed consumers in 2011, it learned that 96% of participants readily identified honey as an all-natural sweetener.
“Today’s consumer is more aware than ever about the ingredients in the foods they eat,” Ms. Barry said. “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 natural, clean products.
“Honey is such a great ingredient for the baking industry because it performs many roles beyond just sweetening,” she added.
Because of its high fructose content, honey is sweeter than sugar. This allows bakers to cut back on total sweeteners yet still achieve the desired sweetness. “Honey’s sugar profile does change slightly between floral sources,” Ms. Barry observed. Its fructose content can range from 30.91 to 44.26%, with glucose varying from 22.89 to 40.75%.
Honey not only sweetens but also adds humectant effects through its hygroscopicity. “Products that contain honey dry out more slowly and have a lesser tendency to crack,” Ms. Barry reported. Its fructose content fosters greater uniformity in baking and promotes evenly browned crusts at lower baking temperatures. It naturally coats, binds and thickens products, improving body and mouthfeel. A water-soluble liquid, honey can be pumped or extruded during bakery processing.
And then there’s flavor and aroma, qualities long valued by bakers and consumers alike. Even at small percentages, up to 6% flour weight basis, honey improves the aroma of sweet cakes, biscuits, breads and similar products. Its naturally high acidity, averaging a pH of 3.91, helps inhibit mold growth.
“When substituting honey for sugar in formulas, begin by substituting honey for up to half of the sugar,” Ms. Barry said. Other tips: Reduce oven temperature by 25 F° to prevent over-browning, and for each part of honey used, cut liquids by 25% and add 1% baking soda.
Honey actually exerts a flavor-masking effect in whole grain and whole wheat products. Ms. Barry reported that Auntie Anne’s, a national chain of pretzel shops, chose honey to sweeten its new Honey Whole Grain Pretzel made with whole grain flour.
“Other bakeries in the gluten-free market also are turning to honey to provide flavor and moisture in these bakery foods,” Ms. Barry added. “Honey is naturally free of gluten, containing no wheat, barley, rye or oats or their byproducts. In gluten-free formulas, where texture and flavor often suffer, honey offers bakers distinct flavor, color and textural enhancement by retaining moisture.”
For assistance and teaching videos, visit www.bakingwithhoney.com. To learn more about sweetner trends and using natural sweeteners, listen in on the National Honey Board's free webinar, June 6 at 2 pm EDT.