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Consumption of honey is at an all-time high. Used to add nuanced sweetness to everything from salad dressings to cocktails to potato chips, honey is one of the world’s most versatile ingredients. And with more than 300 varietals in the US alone (National Honey Board, 2022), there’s a unique type of honey for every product and menu application.
So, why the buzz? To answer this question, let’s look at honey’s health halo. A whopping 38% of global consumers say they are actively trying to reduce their sugar consumption (GlobalData, 2022) and many consider honey to be more desirable than refined sugar. Product manufacturers are certainly taking note. Snack and energy bars across North America, South America and the Middle East are touting simple ingredient labels with no refined sugars or additives, thanks to the naturally sweet power of honey (Mintel, 2023). Even candy companies are pairing honey with ingredients such as fair-trade dark chocolate, roasted almonds and orange (Candy Industry, 2021) to create products that align with the “permissible indulgence” trend.
Moving from sweet to savory and spicy, honey is one of the most popular flavors paired with protein. Honey garlic, honey barbecue, honey sriracha and honey chipotle are just some of the sauces, glazes and marinades enlivening wings, chicken sandwiches, plant-based sausages and meal kits. Across China, Thailand and Japan, honey plays a major role in adding flavor to chicken and pork products, but it’s often paired with ingredients such as yuzu, fingerroot ginger and miso to add depth of flavor. The hot honey trend, which was prevalent in Brazilian pizzerias before making its way across the globe (Mintel, 2023), continues to play on consumers’ love of flavor mashups.
But we can’t talk about honey without talking about sustainability. On retail shelves from India to South Africa, honey brands are providing on-pack claims to highlight their products’ origin, bee health, hive management and more. The bigger issue of protecting pollinators (not just honeybees) is also at play in the food industry. For example, the US-based Bee Better Certified seal designates use of ingredients that have been harvested with pollinator-friendly conservation practices (USDA, 2021). An even more sustainable option is being explored in the world of food technology, as lab-grown honey is being developed to address the growing demand for honey in an eco-friendly way.
Operators are leaning heavily into hot honey flavors, especially paired with chicken, to create craveable offerings. Honey is also used a better-for-you flavor enhancer for dessert items.
Honey is the ideal ingredient for balancing savory and spicy flavors, especially when used in sauces that are paired with proteins. In that context, honey is occasionally used to replace refined sugars, so highlighting the health halo that honey can add to products is key.
CPG brands are also leveraging honey as a refined sugar replacement, creating more naturally sweetened offerings. Brands are also highlighting honey’s origin, varietal, bee-friendly farming techniques and even bee-free offerings to create more eco-friendly honey products.
The versatility of honey to pair with other ingredients makes it a true back-of-house staple. Chef Jaime Mestan is showcasing honey as both a brine for tea-smoked duck breast as well as the base of a honey-lemongrass finishing sauce in our latest video.
Playing up sweet and heat is a great way to add signature appeal to perfectly seared scallops, dressed with a spicy garlic and honey glaze. Brown butter sauce infused with honey, apple cider vinegar, chile de arbol and ancho chiles truly sets this dish apart.
Featuring Griffith Foods Spicy Garlic Honey Glaze
Between its versatile usage, appealing flavor and healthy halo, honey is having its moment in the spotlight. Products from Griffith Foods and Custom Culinary® featuring this powerhouse ingredient can help you capitalize on demand for alternative sweeteners as well as the sweet-and-spicy/sweet-and-savory flavor trends.
“Spice-infused honey adds the perfect finishing touch to any savory dish. Simmer warm spices together with honey, considering such combinations as ginger and lavender, cumin and black pepper or black cardamom and star anise.”
–Chef Mark Serice, Vice President Global Culinary, Griffith Foods
As brands start to explore more sustainable practices that acknowledge the environmental impact of honey production, bee-friendly farming techniques and even bee-free honey will continue to grow.
Brands are starting to communicate the benefits of honey not just as a flavor enhancer but as a refined sugar replacement. As consumers increasingly look for reduced or natural sugar options, honey will play an even more important role in new product launches, including snacks and sauces.
Hot honey is commonly used in foodservice innovation, presenting an opportunity to explore more nuanced spicy honey flavors with specific chile flavor callouts. Other up-and-coming flavor pairings will include truffle, citrus, ginger and more.
Christopher Doering, “US honey consumption soars to all-time high amid better-for-you trend,” Food Dive, August 18, 2022.
GlobalData, “Mapping the Strategic Direction of Foodservice,” March 3, 2022.
“Hey there, honey: 6 new candies made with honey entice consumers,” Candy Industry, October 13, 2021.
“Honey Varietals,” National Honey Board, accessed December 2022.
Jocelyn Benjamin, “Bee Better Certification Program is Buzzing on U.S. Farms, Local Grocers,” USDA, July 29, 2021.
Mintel, 2023 FlavorIQ® Food and Flavor Outlook Report, January 2023.