Taste for honey grows along with concern for bees

With the season’s annual sense of renewal, spring flowers bring (hopefully) bees buzzing – and thoughts of honey.

Not surprisingly, honey sweetens many spring favorites for Passover gatherings. The Jewish holiday begins at sundown Monday.

“Honey is intrinsically kosher,” noted Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at UC Davis’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science.

That makes it a perfect, and symbolic, ingredient for such celebrations. Since Moses’ day, honey has represented agricultural abundance. For Passover, honey sweetens kugels, glazes strawberries and accents savory dishes.

“I make a cheesecake with a ground almond crust, honey, cinnamon and butter,” Harris said. “(Honey) is great for fruit tarts of all kinds.”

Saturday, the Honey Center hosts its second annual Pollination Day as part of UC Davis’ Picnic Day. At the Honey Center, families are invited to taste varietal honeys, dress up like busy bees for photos and observe real bees up close.

“We had so many people line up for tastings last year, we decided to double our tasting stations,” Harris said. “We’ll sell local honey (including the Honey Center’s own UC Davis honey) and do lots of family activities. It will be a lot of fun.”

Recent perils to our bee population have made consumers more aware of this important insect. Honeybees pollinate more than 130 California crops, including almonds, California’s largest agricultural export. More than 780,000 acres of almonds grow in California, and for pollination, they need an estimated 1.6 million hives, more than 60 percent of the nation’s total.

Colony Collapse Disorder, the often puzzling malady that kills honeybees, has taken a heavy toll.

“We’ve had 30 percent loss (of the hives) every single year,” Harris said.

Concern over the collapse disorder has prompted widespread concern over bees and bumped up honey sales at record high prices.

According to the American Beekeeping Federation, national honey production reached 149 million pounds last year, up 5 percent from 2012. Prices edged up to $2.12 wholesale a pound.

On average, we eat about 1.5 pounds per person, three times as much honey as we ate 20 years ago.

“I have absolutely seen a surge in the popularity of honey,” said Marie Simmons, author of “Taste of Honey” (Andrews McMeel, $19.99, 192 pages) and a spokeswoman for the National Honey Board. “I think it’s for a variety of reasons, including perhaps the back-to-the-earth movement, farmers markets, comfort foods (and) yearning for hearth and home, unprocessed foods and natural foods.”

The collapse disorder goes far beyond California as a worldwide problem, she added.

“Wide reporting in the media has brought much-needed attention to the issue and an awareness of the importance of the honeybee – especially since honeybees provide a vital benefit to agriculture through pollination of many food crops. This in turn has manifested itself in passion for honey as a pure food.”

Added Harris, “People ... think by eating more honey, they will help the bees. That’s fine. But what they really need to do is (to) stop spraying pesticides and herbicides in their own gardens. People know bees are important, but they don’t want them in their yards. That’s a major disconnect; people don’t realize how they contribute to bee health.”

Honey still represents just a taste of America’s sweet tooth, Harris noted. “The average consumer eats 47 pounds of sugar a year and 35.1 pounds of corn syrup. So, there’s lots of room for honey growth, sadly.”

With new focus on an ancient food, consumers are rediscovering honey, particularly varietals derived from different flowers. Pollen sources give distinctive flavors to the bee’s final product.

Orange blossom and clover are the most familiar varietals. But there are many more, such as avocado, buckwheat, eucalyptus, pomegranate and wildflower. The National Honey Board lists more than 300 varietals.

Although millions of bees pollinate almonds, almond honey is rarely sold to the public due to a bitter aftertaste, Harris said. “And you’ve got to watch labeling. (Recently), I saw a ‘truffle honey’ that was actually truffle oil-infused. When was the last time you saw a honeybee go underground to pollinate truffles?”

As an ingredient, different honeys change the way the final dish tastes.

“Varietal honeys are appearing in both farmers markets and on the shelves in local grocery store chains,” Simmons said. “Many chefs are featuring honey on their menus, often mentioning a particular varietal.”

She said she prefers to match certain flavor profiles with specific foods.

“Light-colored floral honey I love with cream, butter and other mildly sweet dishes, like drizzled on a scoop of vanilla ice cream or over a dish of vanilla yogurt. At the other end of the spectrum, I am very fond of deep, dark amber-colored and robustly flavored honeys, especially as an ingredient in barbecue sauce or used to sweeten chocolate pudding or brownies.

“I also love honey with the bright tang of herbs such as mint, fennel or sage, drizzled over a slice of cheese and served as a sweet/savory dessert.”

That can create some tasty buzz at your own dinner table.


Honey-kissed kugel

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe courtesy National Honey Board.


1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups grated carrots

1 1/2 cups grated zucchini

1 medium onion, finely diced

3 eggs, separated

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 cups peeled and grated potatoes

1 cup matzo meal

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, optional

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper


Combine water, carrots, zucchini and onion in medium saucepan. Simmer about 4 minutes or until vegetables are soft; cool slightly. Whisk together egg yolks and honey in large bowl. Stir in cooked vegetables, potatoes, matzo meal, dill, salt and pepper. Beat egg whites in separate large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 egg whites into vegetable mixture; gently fold in remaining egg whites.

Turn mixture into well-greased 1.5-quart soufflé or 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until kugel is puffed and golden brown.


Matzo strawberry tart

Serves 8

Recipe courtesy National Honey Board. (For more matzo recipes, see Page D4.)


1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 matzo tart shell (recipe below)

4 cups halved fresh strawberries


Combine honey and lemon juice; mix well. Brush bottom of tart shell with mixture. Fill tart shell with strawberries. Drizzle remaining honey mixture over berries.

Matzo tart shell: Cut 1/3 cup shortening into 1 cup matzo cake meal until mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine 1/3 cup water and 1 tablespoon honey; mix well. Sprinkle over matzo mixture. Mix lightly to form dough; shape into ball.

Press dough into 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Refrigerate 30 minutes to allow pastry to firm up. Bake at 400 degrees about 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.

Tip: Fill tart shell and glaze strawberries just before serving to prevent shell from becoming soggy.


Honey haroset

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Recipe courtesy National Honey Board.


1/2 cup walnuts

2 cups dried mixed fruit

1 tablespoon chopped, candied ginger

1/4 cup honey

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds



Finely chop walnuts, fruit and ginger. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Spoon into small serving bowl. Serve with matzos, if desired.


Canillitas de leche

This variation on traditional Guatemalan candy features the sweetness of milk and honey.

Recipe courtesy National Honey Board.


1/2 cup honey

4 cups powdered milk

1 1/2 cans condensed milk, sweetened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Cornstarch, for kneading


Place all of the ingredients except the cornstarch in a stand or hand mixer with a paddle attachment and mix on low for 30 seconds. Change the mixer to medium speed and mix for approximately 1 minute or until mix forms a stiff consistency.

Place the sugar mixture on a clean work surface dusted with a bit of cornstarch. Knead the dough for a minute with your hands, using cornstarch in order to prevent sticking.

Roll or pipe the mixture into 24 desired shapes, dusting with a little cornstarch as you go.

Wrap the shapes in cellophane or other desired wrapping. Makes about 24 pieces.


Lamb and dried fig tagine

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Serves 4

Recipe courtesy of “Taste of Honey” by Marie Simmons.


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup onion, chopped

1 teaspoon Moroccan spice blend (ras el hanout)

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1½ to 2 pounds lamb sirloin, trimmed and cubed (1 inch)

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices

½ cup unsalted chicken broth

12 dried Mission figs, prunes, or apricots

1 cup carrot, cut into ½-inch pieces

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon diced preserved lemon, or 1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest

2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped


Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or a braising pan. When it is hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion, add the onion, Moroccan spice blend, turmeric and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent.

Add the lamb and sprinkle with the salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Cook the meat, turning, for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth and heat to boiling. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add the figs and carrot. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes longer, or until the meat is tender.

Stir in the honey and lemon. If there is too much liquid, turn the heat to high and boil for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Note: Moroccan spice blend – ras el hanout – gives this stew its distinctive aroma. It’s available in specialty markets and many larger supermarkets. It typically contains cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, peppers and turmeric.


Honey Passover cheesecake

Recipe courtesy National Honey Board.


Matzo meal tart shell:

1 cup matzo meal

1/3 cup butter, softened

1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon honey


1 pound low-fat cream cheese, softened

2 cups low-fat sour cream, divided

2/3 cup honey, divided

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla, divided


Prepare and cool matzo meal tart shell: Process matzo meal in food processor until very fine. Cut softened butter into meal until mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine water and honey; mix well. Sprinkle over matzo mixture. Mix lightly to form dough; shape into ball. Press dough into bottom of 9-inch springform pan with removable bottom. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

Filling: Beat cream cheese with 1/2 cup sour cream at low speed until very smooth. Reserve 2 tablespoons honey and gradually beat remaining honey into cream cheese mixture. Beat in eggs, one at a time; add 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix well. Pour into cooled crust. Bake at 350 degrees degrees for 45 minutes or until knife blade inserted near center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 425 degrees. Combine 11/2 cups sour cream, reserved 2 tablespoons honey and 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix well. Carefully spread over top of cheesecake. Bake at 425 degrees for 8 minutes or until the edges pull away from the pan. Cool at room temperature then refrigerate at least 2 hours. Remove sides of pan and, if desired, garnish with sliced kiwi fruit and strawberries.


Mixed berry and apple-honey snow

Prep time: 1 hour, plus 1 hour marinate time

Serves 10

Use whatever seasonal fruit is best, advises Laura Frankel, executive chef of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago. Frankel bought an inexpensive manual ice shaver to make the “snow.” You can also make the ice by pulsing ice cubes in a blender or food processor. Some refrigerators feature a setting to dispense finely crushed iced.


2 small apples, cored, cut into julienne

2 cups strawberries, sliced

2 cups blueberries

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

7 cups shaved ice

Seeds (arils) from 1 pomegranate

1/4 cup thinly sliced mint


Place all the fruit in a mixing bowl with the honey and lemon juice and zest. Mash the fruit just a bit with a potato masher. Allow the fruit to macerate (marinate and break up just a bit), 1 hour. Distribute the ice among 10 dessert glasses or bowls. Pour the fruit and juice over the ice. Garnish with pomegranate arils and mint.

Per serving: 77 calories; 0 g fat; 0 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 1 mg sodium; 2 g fiber.


Quinoa with dried fruit and honey-lime dressing

Serves 8

This is easy to make in large quantities for entertaining. Feel free to change the amounts of the salad ingredients or to add other dried fruits as you wish. Make ahead: The salad, minus the toasted almonds, tastes better after a day’s refrigeration so that the flavors can meld.

Note: Toast the almonds in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, shaking them often to avoid scorching. Cook for a few minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool completely.

From Susan Barocas, director of the Jewish Food Experience.


For the salad:

2 cups dried quinoa, rinsed in cold water and drained thoroughly

4 cups water

10 dried unsulphured unsweetened apricots, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

1/4 cup dried currants

1/3 cup finely chopped scallions

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted (see note below)

Lettuce leaves, for serving

Crumbled feta cheese, for garnish (optional)

For the dressing:

Finely grated zest from 2 limes, plus 1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 to 2 teaspoons honey

1/2 cup sunflower, safflower or walnut oil

1 teaspoon salt, or more as needed

Freshly ground black pepper


For the salad: Combine the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed, watching carefully near the end to avoid overcooking or scorching the bottom. Uncover and fluff with a fork, then transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the dried apricots and currants in a heatproof bowl. Cover them with just-boiled water to plump them up; drain after 10 to 12 minutes, then add the fruit to the quinoa along with the scallions.

For the dressing: Combine the lime juice, honey, oil, the teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste in a liquid measuring cup, whisking until emulsified. Stir in the zest, then pour into the quinoa mixture and toss to incorporate.

(At this point, the salad can be refrigerated for 1 to 2 days in advance.)

When ready to serve, mix in the toasted almonds. Line a platter with lettuce leaves, then spoon the quinoa salad over the leaves. Scatter the feta over the top, if using, or serve alongside.

Per serving: 320 calories; 19 g fat (2 g sat.); 0 mg chol.; 300 mg sodium; 34 g carb.; 4 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 7 g protein.