Being a retired beekeeper, I’m very much into cooking with honey. With several gallons always on hand, I add it to many different foods. Since honeybees are on the decline, honey has become a more precious commodity, and not one to take for granted. (The honey bees aren't yet on the increase, either, and I'm closely watching the battles over resolving the CCD problem and the related neonicotinoid-use issue on farms crops.)
Having put in my usual enthusiastic plug for honey, I must caution that there are times when putting honey in ANY food is taboo — mainly when children are under one year of age. Even if the honey was produced completely organically and with no processing, it can still be dangerous.
Why Infants Should Not Eat Honey
Most people have become aware that infants should not eat honey. There is always a chance of Clostridium botulinum (botulism) bacteria lurking in honey and the problem comes when these bacteria grow in the infant’s intestinal tract. Babies with infant botulism are constipated and have difficulty holding up their heads and sucking. It’s quite dangerous. Because honey can contain the C. botulinum bacteria, responsible beekeepers usually add to their honey labels that no form of raw or pasteurized honey should ever be fed to infants until they are one year old.
In contrast, botulism in adults is caused by eating food contaminated with the toxin that the bacteria produce. And, that is a life-threatening situation, too, but not usually caused by eating honey.
What about Honey in Baked Goods?
Okay, but you already know not to feed honey to infants, right? You don’t hand the baby a spoonful of honey to suck on. But, did you know that this cautionary warning includes baked foods made with honey, such as graham crackers, or muffins and cookies made with honey? If you carefully read food ingredient labels, you may be surprised to find honey in more baked goods than you thought. Honey is often added to yogurt and other foods. The same cautionary statement applies. When it comes to your child's health, extra vigilance could save its life. This means that even your favorite homemade oatmeal cookies made with added honey can't wind up in the baby's mouth. Save them for consumption by older children and adults.
It’s maddening that something so good and healthy and natural as organic honey could hurt your baby. But this situation sure lends credence to the modern-day mantra “read the label," doesn’t it?
Mary Moss-Sprague is a certified Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver in Corvallis, Ore., and author of Stand Up and Garden: The No-digging, No-tilling, No-stooping Approach to Growing Vegetables and Herbs. Read all of Mary’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.