The historical and anthropological aspects of foods have always amazed me, and sometimes even seem a little incredible. Take something as commonplace as honey, for example. Today one can purchase this syrupy nectar in neatly packed, little bear-shaped or cylindrical plastic or glass containers with convenient pour spouts at any time of the year and at all corners of the earth, literally. But to think that the honey in those prepackaged containers is very similar to that which was harvested before modern civilization began seems inconceivable; the same type of honey that we consume today was eaten multi-millennium ago. In fact, there are actually rock drawings in India depicting honey gatherers, which date back to the Neolithic period.Honey, as it most rightly should be, has often been considered spiritual, and a gift of nature and the gods. The Ancient Greeks wrote of honey as "the nectar of the gods," and the Hebrew name for bee is dbure, which stems from the word dbr, simply meaning "word," which can be interpreted as the divine word or truth. With this knowledge, and honey's natural sweetness, it's no wonder that loved ones are often affectionately referred to as "honey," or "sweetie." The English word for honey is based on the Germanic "hunage," aptly meaning golden.It was sometime around 1000BC that King Solomon of Israel said "Eat honey, my son, for it is good," and these words still ring true today. What the king probably knew, and was implying, was that honey was not only good, but also good for you. The health benefits and medicinal properties of honey have been recognized for thousands of years.One of the most well known aspects of honey's medicinal qualities is its use as an antibiotic. Honey naturally contains an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide; thus it's a natural treatment for minor cuts and scrapes. These same properties also help alleviate the discomfort of sore throat pain. And once ingested, the main sugars of honey (fructose and glucose) are absorbed directly into the bloodstream without needing to be digested, in turn, honey provides a quick and natural energy boost. Parents, though, should take note: honey should not be fed to infants under 1 year of age-minute botulism spores are present in many types of honey. While these are harmless to adults and older children, they can have an ill affect on an infant.The area in which honey truly excels, of course, is its use as a food or ingredient, and its ability to be incorporated into a large variety of recipes and meal courses. Honey can be substituted into any recipe where sugar is used. Because honey has a high concentration of fructose it is sweeter than sugar, so you'll need less honey than sugar in a recipe to do the same job. When substituting honey for sugar in baked goods reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of honey used, this will compensate for the added liquid contained in the honey. And it's also a good idea to reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit because honey browns, and ultimately burns, quicker than sugar.Honey may be purchased in four forms: liquid, cream (or spun), comb and cut-comb. Liquid is the variety that most of us are accustomed to; it is, as the name suggests, liquid and free of any visible crystals or comb. Liquid honey is also very clear, albeit dark amber. Cream or spun honey, on the other hand, is lighter in color and opaque. Cream honey is intentionally crystallized in a controlled environment, and is as spreadable as warm butter. Comb honey is sold still in its natural comb, while cut-comb honey is honey with visible pieces of the comb suspended in it. The comb is entirely edible.Liquid honey should be stored at room temperature in tightly sealed containers for up to one year; honey that contains a portion of the comb should be consumed within six months of purchase. When honey is refrigerated it often crystallizes, becoming opaque and grainy. If this occurs, it can be easily liquefied again by removing the lid and warming it in a microwave or pan of warm water.Boneless Porkloin Braised with Onions and HoneyYield: 4 servings3 tablespoons olive oil 4 slices porkloin, 3/4 inch thick, 6 ounces each2 medium onions, sliced2 cloves garlic, minced1/4 cup honey1-1/2 tablespoons flour1-1/2 cup chicken stock or water1/2 teaspoon kosher salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper1 tablespoon balsamic vinegarHeat the oil over high-heat in a medium sized cast-iron skillet until it is very hot. Pat dry the pork steaks and carefully add them to the hot pan. Brown the pork nicely on both sides, then remove them to a clean plate and set them aside. In the same hot skillet, add the onions and saute them for 5 or 10 minutes, or until they are very caramelized. Drizzle the honey over the onions and stir for two minutes, then add the flour and stir for an additional two minutes.Add the chicken stock or water, salt, pepper and vinegar. Stir the liquid and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a very low simmer and add the seared pork steaks back to the skillet, gently pushing them down into the liquid. Cover the skillet and simmer the pork slowly for 30-40 minutes, or until the meat is very tender. Stir the liquid often to alleviate scorching.Curried Carrot Soup with Honey and YogurtYield: 2 quarts2 tablespoons vegetable oil1 small onion, diced2 teaspoons minced ginger2 teaspoons minced garlic1-2 tablespoons good quality curry powder2 tablespoon honey 1-1/2 pounds peeled and diced carrots4 cups chicken stock or water1 teaspoon salt1/2 cup plain yogurt Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a heavy soup pot. Add the onion, ginger and garlic; saute for 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the curry and honey; saute 2 minutes. Add the carrots, stock (or water) and salt. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower it to a simmer; skim any impurities that may rise to the surface. Cook the soup for approximately 45 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor and puree until very smooth. Return the soup to the pot and warm it, but do not boil (boiling it may curdle the yogurt). Serve while hot or chilled.Honey-Oatmeal Muffins with Pecans and Dried Blueberries Yield: 12 muffins2/3 cup milk1/3 cup vegetable oil1 large egg, beaten1/4 cup honey1-1/2 cups quick or old fashioned oatmeal, uncooked1 cup all purpose flour1/2 cup dried blueberries1/2 cup chopped pecans1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed1 tablespoon baking powder3/4 teaspoon saltPreheat an oven to 400 Fahrenheit.Combine the milk, vegetable oil, egg and honey in a medium sized bowl and mix together. In another bowl, mix together the oatmeal, flour, dried blueberries, pecans, sugar, baking powder and salt. Combine the contents of both bowls together and stir until the ingredients are just combined and have formed a homogenous mass. Spoon the batter into 12 greased muffin tins, make sure to only fill the tins 2/3 full. Bake the muffins for 15-18 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick pulls out clean.

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