Honey was the main sweetening agent in Europe until the 11th century. When sugar was first introduced, it was used in pharmacies to cover up bitter flavors in medication. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that commercial manufacturers started using sugar in their products. Since then, debates over the amount of sugar people consume and the potential health benefits of honey have continued. This leads to the question of whether honey can be substituted for sugar, particularly in tricky cooking processes like candy making.
The taste of honey is different from the taste of sugar. That means using honey instead of sugar in candy recipes changes the overall flavor profile of your finished product. Each type of honey has a distinct intensity, ranging from very mild to heady and potentially overwhelming. As a guideline, if you want a light honey flavor like that of clover honey, look for pale-colored products. Dark honey like buckwheat has a much stronger flavor. Always taste your honey before using it in candy making to ensure that you like the taste.
Honey is sweeter than sugar by as much as 50 percent, depending on the variety. As a result, bakers and candy makers alike typically use less honey in place of sugar in a recipe -- 1/2 to ¾ cup of honey replaces 1 cup of sugar. You must also adjust the liquid ingredients when substituting, because honey adds moisture. For each cup of sugar replaced with honey, decrease the liquid components by 2 tablespoons. This balances the moisture content added by the honey.
Candy is a highly temperature-sensitive creation. Temperatures for each stage, ranging from soft ball stage to hard crack stage, must be precise or the candy will not set up properly. Honey responds to heating the same way as sugar. You do not have to change the temperature to which you cook it to achieve the desired results. For example, for pralines requiring a soft ball stage, cook the honey to 235 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit. For caramel, heat the honey to 245 to 250 F. For divinity or rock candy, increase the temperature to 250 to 265 F., and for hard candy, such as lollipops, the temperature should be between 290 and 310 F. Stir frequently, as honey has a tendency to burn.
Honey has a natural propensity to draw moisture from the air. That means you need to store your honey-based candy in a cool area in an airtight container. In this form, it has the same shelf life as sugar candy, ranging from two weeks to a full year. Just like sugar confections, the stickier and softer the candy, the shorter the shelf life.
Some candy makers like to use natural products like honey for the health benefits they offer. Note that one teaspoon of honey has 22 calories, where the same amount of sugar has only 16 calories. Even so, honey is rich in nutrients, including vitamin A, B1, B2 and C. It also contains abundant antioxidants believed to decrease the occurrences of chronic disease.
- Colorado State University: Sugar and Sweeteners
- Yale Newhaven Teacher’s Institute: Sweet Science: How Sugar Molecules Are Manipulated in Candy Making
- National Honey Board: Reference Guide to Nature’s Sweetener
- University of Kentucky: Beekeeping and Honey Production
- Kansas State University: When Sweet Treats Go Bad: Food Science Experts Offer Advice on the Shelf Life of Candy
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Cooking with Honey
- Pick Your Own: How to use honey in place of sugar in recipes
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