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Cooking With Honey

Dec/05/2022 / by Sweta Vikram

The other day, I was making herbal tea for my aunt. “Beta, can you add 1 -2 tsps. of honey to it?” she said with lots of love. Honey is often used as a sweetener in teas and other flavored beverages, so my aunt’s request wasn’t out of the ordinary. Well, I typically don’t offer Ayurvedic advice until someone asks for it. But I really do care for my aunt and couldn’t stop myself from telling her why that was a bad idea. My aunt drinks piping hot tea, and Ayurveda reminds us that mixing honey in boiling hot water is a strict no-no. If she wanted to add honey at all, I recommended that she wait for the tea to cool down and then add a teaspoon to it. While raw honey is considered nectar, cooked honey is dangerous.

Uncooked honey is nectar,
Cooked honey is considered poison.” 
~ Dr. Vasant Lad and Usha Lad [1]

Sweet Memories of Honey

Out of the six Ayurvedic tastes in an Ayurvedic diet, honey has the sweet taste. What emotions evoke in you when you think of sweet taste? Kindness? Compassion? Satisfaction? Contentment? Love? My husband’s Dadi would give him a ¼ tsp of chopped, raw onion mixed with 1 tbsp of honey when he had a cough. My mom would mix a pinch of cinnamon powder in 1 tsp of honey when my brother and I had a cough and she wanted to clear the excess kapha accumulation from our lungs. It also soothed the respiratory tract. I remember my mom would even make face masks for me using honey as one of the ingredients. How many people did you know who drank honey and lemon juice in lukewarm water every morning? My point: If you grew up in the subcontinent and reflect on your childhood, at least a few homemade, healing recipes for cold, cough, digestion, and beauty treatments included honey.

Ayurveda and Honey

According to Ayurveda, honey is one of the most powerful medicines. Honey is used for both internal and external applications. It balances vata dosha and kapha dosha and aggravates pitta dosha when used in excess. Avoid using it on a hot/warm day as honey has “heating” energetics. With its long list of health benefits and unparalleled healing potential, honey has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. It is also used as a vehicle or carrier, anupana, of other herbs and healing substances. According to co-founder and Master Herbsmith of Pukka Herbs, Sebastian Pole, “The herbs ride on these carriers like the scent on the wind.”[2] Honey also mitigates the side effects of the other medicines it is mixed with. Honey heals wounds. It is a natural detoxifier and improves skin complexion. It lightens heavier foods and herbs, improves appetite, and stimulates agni, the digestive fire.

Why You Shouldn’t Cook With Honey

In the Western culture, honey is used extensively for baking and cooking. Honey can also be found in a variety of desserts and is a common alternative to sugar in hot beverages. Honey is also combined with animal meat — glazed ham is a popular dish served at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But according to Ayurveda, both cooking with honey and adding it to boiling water can be dangerous. Whether you use an oven, grill, microwave or any other cooking vessel, excessive heat will not only degrade the beneficial enzymes but also affect the flavor of the raw honey.

Acharya Charaka, who was known as the father of Ayurveda, a physician, and the author of Caraka Samhita, makes it clear that when honey is heated, it becomes very hard to digest and produces unwanted qualities. Heating honey or cooking with it destroys the enzymes that support the digestive process, as it undergoes a change in the color, texture and loses its nutrient value. These toxic molecules stick to the mucous membrane of the digestive tract and convert to ama or toxins. This ama is the root cause of most health issues. For example, think about digestive issues like upset stomach, insulin sensitivity, skin irritation, weight gain, respiration challenges and much worse.

A modern science study showed that when honey is heated, it produces a chemical called hydroxymethyl furfuraldehyde (HMF), a substance linked in certain forms to toxicity and possible links to carcinogenic effects. Heating honey also alters its chemical contents in other ways. For example, it increases the peroxides — peroxides are known for their unhealthy effect.[3]

The best way to reap the nutrition from honey, from an Ayurvedic perspective, is to use it in its raw form.

“The great thing about Ayurveda is that its treatments always yield side benefits, not side effects.” ~ Shubhra Krishan