Honey, how small is your carbon footprint?

Firestone, CO (May 2008)—“Few foods, especially sweets, are able to compete with honey in terms of carbon footprint,” observes Dr. Malcolm T. Sanford, former Extension Specialist in apiculture at the University of Florida, in his paper “Honey—An Environmentally Friendly Food.” With chefs increasingly concerned about a food’s origins and handling, culinarians should know that pure honey is a useful, versatile food that occurs in nature entirely free from human tampering or alteration.

            So, if pure honey is a natural substance, what is it exactly and why is it sweet?   

Like honey, the answer is straightforward.  Pure honey starts as plant or flower nectar that is collected by honeybees and broken down by their digestive enzymes into fructose, glucose and water [in varying proportions depending on the floral source].  It also naturally contains other sugars, as well as trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids.  Honey requires no processing, so it literally travels from hive to bottle to kitchen.  (Nevertheless, chefs should always check ingredient labeling on honey products to ensure purity.)

            When measured by carbon footprint, pure honey is, in fact, one of the most environmentally sound foods.  Given that food production is a main contributor to human energy use, food production and consumption can affect everything from greenhouse gas emissions to methane and nitrous oxide production. Shipping food from cultivation to consumption can also create a substantial energy toll. Local honey production works to offset these environmental negatives by encouraging natural, sustainable production

cycles in situ, and by generating a ready-to-use food with no production waste. Beyond its small eco-footprint, honey is a direct product of pollination, a fertilization process that is responsible for one out of every three bites consumed by humans.  Honeybee pollination ensures annual harvests of cotton, almonds, oranges, apples, blueberries, cucumbers, strawberries and numerous other staple crops.

            Remember to consider pure honey’s overall ingredient value when menu planning.  Honey’s sweetness, versatility, rich texture, varietal flavors, and locavore appeal are one aspect of its contribution to a meal.   Equally meaningful, honey production is a fundamental and unchanging process that helps maintain a healthy environment.

            For more information about honey and honey production, visit honey.com, or contact Jami Yanoski at jami@nhb.org, (303) 776-2337.