From healing wounds to lowering inflammation, raw honey is much more than a natural sweetener. 
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You probably know honey as a popular alternative to refined sugars. And because it's high in fructose, honey is actually sweeter than regular sugar, so you can often use less to get the sweetness you're craving. But did you know there's a difference between the regular honey you buy in the bear-shaped bottle and the cloudy-looking jars of raw honey on the shelf in health food stores? Turns out, raw honey is quite different from its processed counterpart. We tapped a dietician to give us the lowdown on all the healthy benefits of this buzzy superfood—raw honey—and tell us why we might want to keep a jar in our pantry and medicine cabinet. 

How is raw honey different from regular honey?

"To put it simply, raw honey is honey as it is found in the beehive," explained Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Real Nutrition. Raw honey is harvested straight from the honeycomb and then strained to remove dirt, wax, and other debris before being bottled. Unlike regular honey, raw honey skips the pasteurization or filtration process, resulting in its signature cloudy appearance. In regular honey, the filtration process that gives it that clear, consumer-friendly look and runny, drizzle-able texture also strips the honey of most of its beneficial byproducts like pollen, antioxidants, and enzymes. "Most health benefits are found in raw honey," Shapiro said. "Processed, regular honey tends to simply be used and seen as a sugar source."

If you have a jar of raw honey in your pantry for a while, you might notice that it starts to solidify and crystallize. Have no fear—honey has no expiration date, and crystallization is a totally normal reaction that won't make the raw stuff any less good for you. (So don't throw that jar away!)

Finally, what about honey labeled organic? While organic is good, all it means is that the bees are organic—not that the product is raw, or that it provides any benefits beyond providing a sweet drizzle for your morning oatmeal. 

Top Health Benefits of Raw Honey

1 Raw honey has antibacterial properties.

Raw honey is antimicrobial and antibacterial, making it an effective treatment for wounds and infections. Skeptical? You're probably familiar with using hydrogen peroxide on cuts to prevent infection. Turns out, raw honey contains an enzyme that naturally produces hydrogen peroxide by breaking down glucose (sugar). While you should always consult a doctor before using honey for medicinal purposes, it can be a great natural addition to your wound-healing repertoire. 

Another type of honey you may have heard about in wellness circles is manuka honey. While not raw, manuka is a specialized form of honey that packs some serious potential health and medicinal benefits due to its high antibacterial activity.

Manuka honey is also a fantastic option for wound care, as it's been shown to help prevent infection and speed healing. Shapiro also recommends consuming this specialized, dark, thick honey to her clients for its potential health and medicinal benefits, from relieving sore throats to helping soothe indigestion.

2 Raw honey is rich in antioxidants.

"Raw honey contains over 30 different polyphenols, 22 amino acids, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals," said Shapiro. The polyphenols are responsible for raw honey's high level of antioxidants, which help your body protect itself against free radicals (and therefore are thought to improve overall health). The pasteurization process that regular honey undergoes kills off these powerful phytonutrients.

3 Raw honey contains inflammation-fighting pollen.

Pollen is a powerful component that's hard to find outside of raw honey. According to Shapiro, pollen adds nutritional value with its fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It's also shown to fight inflammation, improve liver function, and possibly prevent heart disease and stroke.

Incorporate Raw Honey Into Your Diet in Moderation

Despite the health benefits that raw honey offers, use moderation when adding it to your diet. Shapiro recommends limiting honey to 1 to 2 teaspoons daily. "Remember, it is still an added sugar, and much of the sugar in honey is fructose, which goes to our liver and can lead to fatty liver disease if we get too much."

Consider using raw honey in place of pasteurized honey and other added sugars, but don't go overboard; moderation is key. Another important point: Raw honey may contain a bacteria (clostridium botulinum) that can be dangerous to babies under one year old

Those considerations aside, raw honey adds a delicious touch to sweet and savory foods, as well as a variety of drinks. "I like to add a teaspoon of honey to my tea or lemon water during the winter to boost immunity, fight a dry throat, and add natural sweetness,'' said Shapiro. "I also like to drizzle honey on my avocado toast with sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes. A little salty, spicy, and sweet to start my day off." 

Try using raw honey in these recipes for a healthy boost.

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Credit: Greg DuPree

Classic Spiced Hot Toddy

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Preferably enjoyed with appetizers by a roaring fire, this warm whiskey drink is packed with fragrant baking spices (cardamom and anise, in this case). The sweet honey draws the flavor of those spices into an infused simple syrup. To take advantage of raw honey's benefits, add it after the water has cooled off a bit. 

Honey-Drizzled Soppressata Pizza Recipe
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Honey-Drizzled Soppressata Pizza

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Honey might sound out of place alongside spicy soppressata and funky fontina, but they sing in delicious harmony when combined on this pizza.

Creamy Mango Smoothie
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Mango Smoothie

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Sweet, ripe mangos sometimes need little help in the smoothie department. This treat is a welcome pick-me-up in the morning, as well as a refreshing sip alongside spicy foods or an after-dinner dessert alternative.

Honey Yogurt Pistachio Bark
Credit: Grace Elkus

Honey Pistachio Yogurt Bark

The addition of honey to this gorgeous frozen yogurt bark brings just the right amount of sweetness, while chopped pistachios add crunch and saltiness. Feel free to sprinkle the yogurt with whatever nuts or dried fruit you have on hand, whether it's almonds or dried cranberries.