How does honey compare to sugar?27 Jun 2018
Sugar use is down and honey use is up as manufacturers look for natural sweetening alternatives – but does honey live up to the hype?
According to the European Commission, consumption of high sugar foods and drinks is contracting in Europe, down 1-2% across the EU over the past five years. It predicts a further decline of about 5.4% to 2030 as manufacturers cut sugar in their products in response to health concerns, and as consumers aim to reduce their own sugar consumption.
Meanwhile, many consumers see honey as a natural, healthier alternative to ordinary sugar. About 25% of the honey consumed in Europe is used as an ingredient in packaged foods and drinks, and although honey is not an innovative ingredient in itself, companies increasingly are innovating with honey in products like salty-sweet or spicy-sweet snacks, ready-to-drink teas and breakfast cereals. According to Eurostat figures, Germans consume more honey than any other European nation, at 23% of the total, while other big consumers include the UK, France, Spain and Poland. While honey consumption is strong across the continent, it is growing particularly rapidly in Ireland and many Eastern European countries, including Croatia, Latvia, Romania and Estonia.
Both sugar and honey qualify as added sugars in foods and drinks, and both can contribute to obesity and dental caries. However, honey is often touted as a source of trace minerals and – with its lower glycaemic index – as a potentially better choice for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Although the energy in honey may be released a little more slowly than the energy in sugar, it needs to be treated with the same caution as other sugars, according to specialist advice from organisations including Diabetes UK and Diabetes Ireland.
Like sucrose (ordinary sugar), honey is composed of glucose and fructose. These sugars in sucrose are bound together, but they exist as free sugars in honey, making it taste sweeter. This means some consumers may use less of it, perhaps negating honey’s slightly higher calorie content.
However, the honey varieties that spike blood glucose more slowly tend to be higher in fructose, and that in turn is unlikely to be beneficial, whether or not someone has diabetes. While glucose can be used by nearly every cell in the body for energy, fructose is broken down only in the liver, and emerging evidence suggests it may be more easily converted to fat.
As for the trace minerals and antioxidants in honey, the values are so low that honey cannot be considered a source of nutrients. There is about 11 mg of potassium in a tablespoon of honey, for example, while recommended daily consumption is 3,500 mg.
Even though honey is far from a nutritional powerhouse, it still has benefits for manufacturers.
From a functional perspective, honey can be used instead of sugar in many baked items such as bread and cereals where it contributes similar attributes like colour, extended shelf life, structure development and browning, and its stickiness can be useful for binding snack bars. Its distinctive flavour can be a challenge in some products – but it can also be played up as a desirable characteristic. Aside from real honey, honey flavours can also be used to add the health halo of honey to foods and drinks. Doehler, for example, recommends its honey extracts and flavours to add the “fine taste notes of honey” to enhance fruity and spicy products.
Food manufacturers using honey must also take care that their supply is genuine, as honey is one of the top targets for food fraud, according to a 2016 EU report. It found that about 20% of honey sold in the EU was suspected to contain foreign sugars, either in the form of sugar syrup or cheaper multifloral honey being sold as single source honey. Companies such as Eurofins and Campden BRI provide authenticity testing services that can ensure honey is genuine.
The bottom line is that honey and sugar are very similar from a nutritional perspective, but consumers’ perception of honey as a natural alternative to sugar is generally positive. What’s more, honey can bring interesting flavours and textures to a wide range of products.
The macro trends fuelling industry’s mega deals
6 Jan 2020
The world’s biggest food and ingredients companies are keen to tap into the industry’s latest trends, and many are opting to do so through partnerships, rather than starting from scratch in their own R&D departments.Read more
Out of Africa: Bringing age-old ingredients to the west
6 Jan 2020
Successfully introducing nutritious and appealing ingredients to western markets is a major prize, and the continent of Africa is a promising region for grains, fruits and vegetables with connotations of adventurous eating.Read more
Using botanicals to boost flavour in functional foods
2 Jan 2020
Functional ingredients are often synonymous with bitter and unpleasant flavours, but some suppliers are using botanicals to help bridge the gap between good taste and good health.Read more
What does the future hold for CBD in Europe?
2 Jan 2020
Foods, drinks and supplements containing CBD oil are taking off in North America, despite uncertainty surrounding its regulatory status, but even in Europe foods containing hemp-derived ingredients are on the rise.Read more
Health concerns drive interest in alternative flours
1 Jan 2020
Alternatives to wheat flour were once driven primarily by demand for gluten-free foods, but an increasing number of consumers is buying foods enriched with vegetables, pulses and ancient grains in a bid to improve their overall nutrition.Read more
Algal oil demand surges in specialised nutrition
16 Dec 2019
The potential of microalgae continues to expand, including as a source of protein and as a food colouring – and the market for algal oil in particular is growing fast.Read more
How does microbiome research affect NPD?
16 Dec 2019
The microbiome’s role in overall health has been in the spotlight, and now research investments from major food and drink companies signal that the concept is entering the mainstream. What does this mean for new product development?Read more
What’s new in milk alternative ingredients?
9 Dec 2019
Ingredient suppliers have been scrambling to keep up with soaring growth in the plant-based milk alternatives market, with new solutions emerging for better texture, taste and nutrition.Read more
Flavour trends go back to basics
9 Dec 2019
‘Tis the season for trend predictions, and this year many flavour houses envisage a shift away from the very exotic fruits and botanicals that have featured on such lists in the past, back toward easily recognisable and well-loved flavours.Read more
What’s new in natural sweeteners?
28 Nov 2019
Suppliers have made some major advances in sweetener production in recent months, with the first fermentation-derived nature-identical sweeteners coming to market, and improvements in plant breeding helping to bring down costs.Read more
Are you a supplier
Here's what we can do for you
- Generate quality leads for your business
- Stay visible for 365 days of the year
- Receive product inquiries and respond to meeting requests directly
- Improve company online presence through Search Engine Optimisation