What is Honey?

What is Honey?


  • Honey is between one and one-and-a-half times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar).
  • Honey is approximately 40% fructose, 30% glucose and 17% water, with the remainder being other sugars, carbohydrates and a small amount of vitamins and minerals.
  • North Dakota produces the most honey of all the states in the United States.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established specific requirements for the labeling of sugars in pure honey.
  • A potential health benefit of honey is its role in cough suppression.
  • Infants under one year old should not be given honey due to its risk of containing the bacteria that causes infant botulism.

There are many different types of sugars, and one of the most familiar is honey. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner or dessert—the food uses for honey are wide-ranging. Scientifically speaking, honey is a type of carbohydrate, mainly consisting of the monosaccharides fructose and glucose.

Where does honey come from?

Honey is made by honeybees. Honeybees collect pollen and nectar from the flowering plants that they pollinate and transport it back to the hive for worker bees to process. Eventually, with the help of enzymes provided by the worker bees, the nectar ripens into honey and can be harvested for consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honey is produced in all 50 states, with North Dakota leading the way.

Is honey a natural or added sugar?

Honey is a naturally occurring sugar and is also considered an added sugar, which can be confusing. Although pure honey is made by nature and no sugars are added during its production, consuming pure honey contributes added sugars to the diet. The requirements for the way sugars are labelled on the Nutrition Facts label of pure honey attempts to address this nuance. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pure honey is not required to declare its sugar content as “Added Sugars.” Instead, the sugars in pure honey can be listed as “Total Sugars.” However, a “†” symbol must appear alongside the percent Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts label of pure honey. This symbol directs consumers to a footnote in the Nutrition Facts label box that includes a description of the gram amount of sugar added to the diet by one serving of the product as well as its contribution to the percent DV for added sugars. Here’s an example of the “†” symbol statement: “One serving adds 17g of sugar to your diet and represents 34% of the Daily Value for Added Sugars.”

Although the amount of added sugars that Americans consume has decreased during the last two decades, about six in ten U.S. adults still eat more added sugars than is recommended.

How is honey digested?

One tablespoon of honey provides about 60 calories and 17 grams of sugars. Honey is primarily made up of sugars (approximately 40% fructose and 30% glucose) and water (17%), with the remainder being other sugars, carbohydrates and a small amount of vitamins and minerals. By comparison, sucrose is a disaccharide made of equal parts of two monosaccharides: 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Due to its inherent mixture of sugars, honey is between one and one-and-a-half times sweeter than sucrose, yet honey and sucrose impact blood glucose levels similarly.

When we consume honey, our bodies break it down for energy in a way similar to how other sugars are digested. Glucose ultimately gets taken up by our cells with the help of insulin, while fructose is handled in the liver and does not need insulin to be absorbed.

Does honey have health benefits?

A potential benefit of honey is its role in cough suppression. A 2018 Cochrane Review found that while there was no strong evidence for or against the use of honey to relieve cough in children, honey may be equal to or better than over-the-counter cough remedies or not treating the cough at all. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), honey helps to thin mucus and loosen coughs. The AAP supports the use of small amounts of honey for children one year and older as a home remedy for coughing. The AAP and other health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that infants under one year old should not be given honey because it can contain the bacteria that causes infant botulism. Honey is safe for people one year of age and older.

Added sugars, including honey, have come under increased scrutiny in recent decades. The impact of added sugars on diet and health have been extensively studied, including whether or not certain types of added sugars impact health differently than others. For example, in 2015 researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture compared the consumption of honey, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup and found no difference in metabolic effects such as glycemic response, lipid metabolism and inflammation.

Because honey has more vitamins and minerals per gram than other sugars such as table sugar (sucrose), some view it as healthier. However, to get a meaningful benefit from the micronutrients in honey, the large number of calories from sugar you would have to eat effectively negates any expected health benefit. Further, there are no official recommendations on the types of added sugars we should consume or avoid. It is recommended that added sugars (regardless of the type) make up less than ten percent of the total calories we eat—or less than 50 grams of added sugars per 2,000 calories.

To learn more about carbohydrates and sugars like honey, watch this video.