Why Not Honey?
Even though it’s clearly sourced from animals, honey is controversial in the vegan world. Some might believe that the consumption of honey involves only the extra that the bees won’t use, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that its collection involves several forms of significant harm to the bees who produce it. And although some beekeeping advocates believe that they’re helping the bees and the ecosystem, there is building evidence that honey farming is a detriment to native pollinator populations, whose health and safety suffer as a result of our interference.
According to the Utah County Beekeepers Association, a colony will visit over two million flowers and fly over 55,000 miles to make a pound of honey. And a single bee will only make approximately one twelfth of teaspoon of honey in a lifetime, which is essential to the hive for times when nectar is scarce, such as during winter. At times there may be an excess in the hive, but this amount is difficult to determine and large-scale beekeepers often remove all or most of it and replace it with a sugar or corn syrup substitute.
As explained by Lee Hall:
“Beekeepers regularly disturb the hives, crushing some bees in the process. Beekeepers will replace the bees’ honey with high-fructose corn syrup or cheap, refined sugar, and may kill off the colonies to avoid maintaining the hives throughout the winter. Many beekeepers will clip the queen’s wings or use a “queen excluder” cage to keep the queen from relocating the hive; many will also kill the queen when the production of eggs visibly declines. They may use smoke to force the bees out of the hive so the honey can be harvested. Some beekeepers torch the entire colony when winter arrives… Bees have a complex central nervous system, and many have intensely keen senses of sight and smell, and intricate methods of communication and nest architecture. They obviously experience their lives, avoid harm, and seek out what appeals to them and sustains them.”
Thankfully, there are many vegan alternatives to honey available!
Some of these are whole-foods based, some of them more processed, and some of them you can even make yourself. It’s worth experimenting to find out which alternative is your favorite!
Commercial Honey Alternatives
Single Origin Food UnHoney – Blended from organic coconut nectar, this brand has a light taste and similar texture to honey. It comes in three different flavors: blonde, amber, and copper.
Pyure Harmless Hunny is a sugar-free alternative that advertises having the same texture and taste as honey. It’s made of stevia and tapioca fiber. If your tastebuds are accustomed to regular sugar, certain brands of stevia can be an acquired taste, with some people finding it to be a bit bitter, or having an aftertaste. Some find Harmless Hunny to be thinner than honey, while others think it’s a viable honey alternative that also happens to be low-carb.
Vegan Honey Company makes vegan honey from a wide variety of plants, fruits, and roots, providing many different flavors of honey to choose from. Online reviews are mixed, with some who like the taste but don’t think it tastes like honey, and others viewing it as the best honey alternative available.
Lakanto Sugar-free Maple Flavored Syrup is sweetened with monkfruit, so it doesn’t have the aftertaste associated with stevia-based sweeteners. It’s low-carb, low calorie, and a lot thinner than honey or maple syrup. But if consistency isn’t an issue, it makes a great alternative.
You can also try sites like Etsy, which make it possible for buyers around the world to sample a homemade recipe by a fellow vegan.
HelloGreensStore Vegan Honee is an example of a brand that you won’t necessarily find in your local health food store, but that has a lot of positive feedback from customers.
Flavors include Woody, Bloomy, and Sunny.
There are also several Etsy sellers offering homemade apple honey, including SweetSummerFarms and GoThinkit No Fake Sh!T. The reviews of these homemade products often rival those of the commercial brands.
Apple Based Honey
If you’re a do-it-yourself-er, making your own apple based honey could be a delicious weekend or holiday project.
Depending on the recipe, you might use real apples or apple juice. Fruit juices are still very sugary, but if that’s not a concern, consider the various online recipes for apple-based honey. This sweet alternative is reminiscent of wildflower honey and can be used anywhere honey is used.
No time to prepare your own? There are many commercial and homemade vegan apple honeys online that will do the trick!
Need something quick?
If you don’t have time to track down one of these convenience items, there are several other ingredients that you might not have thought of as honey alternatives, but which might be more readily available.
Below are some of our favorites:
Date Syrup or Paste
All you need to do to make date paste is blend a cup of soaked dates (preferably medjool) with two cups of water. Or follow this simple tutorial from VKindApp. The homemade version will keep for up to three months when stored in the fridge in an airtight container.
Date paste is a bit thicker and has less sugar concentration than date syrup. Both have much higher mineral and antioxidant levels than honey, along with a lower glycemic index.
Brown Rice Syrup
This is a great honey alternative if you are on a low FODMAP diet or have any intolerance to fructose. Brown rice syrup is fructose-free while honey is around 40% fructose.
Brown rice syrup can be used as a honey or sugar alternative in a wide range of foods and beverages. However, it is half as sweet as sugar. Recipes may have to be adjusted accordingly. The main downside of brown rice syrup is its extremely high glycemic index. Avoid brown rice syrup if you have issues with blood sugar.
Please note that not all maple syrup is vegan, so checking about defoaming agents is essential.
Maple syrup may not be ideal if you’re looking to match the flavor of honey, but it works well in sweetening recipes that typically include honey because it has a similar texture and consistency. Try drizzling it over vegan butter on toast!
There’s debate about the health benefits of maple syrup. It’s definitely healthier than pure sugar, with a slightly lower glycemic index and a surprising amount of minerals and antioxidants, especially in the darker varieties. The higher mineral content remains a key area where maple syrup outshines honey. Maple syrup has a whopping 15X more calcium than honey. But it’s still quite high in sugar. Moderation is key.
From a strictly taste and recipe replacement standpoint, agave nectar is a clear alternative to honey. It even has roughly the same number of calories. The lighter varieties taste more like honey whereas the darker varieties taste more like maple syrup. It’s 1.5X sweeter than honey, so you can use less of it. Be mindful that it does make baked goods brown sooner, so it’s important to adjust cooking times and temperatures accordingly.
Agave nectar is controversial from a health perspective. While agave is a syrup made from the blue agave plant (a natural source), it is still highly processed. It has a lower glycemic index than honey, but it’s 75-90% fructose, a sugar linked to many health problems including obesity and diabetes (except when occurring in whole fruit). We suggest using it sparingly.
This sweet alternative looks like maple syrup but with a distinctive caramelly taste. It can be used at a 1:1 ratio to replace honey, but it’s a healthier choice due to its higher nutrition content and low glycemic index.
Sorghum syrup is a less commonly used alternative. Sorghum syrup has a complex and distinctive taste that’s as sweet as honey. It can be used at a 1:1 ratio in recipes that don’t include baking soda. It’s more often used in sauces, baked beans, or gingerbread cookies.
Yacon syrup has a sweet caramelly taste, that’s less sweet than honey. What makes this alternative unique is itsa high soluble fiber content (40-50%). For this reason, it has a low glycemic impact and a lower calorie count. However, because of the high fiber content, too much may cause digestive discomfort.
Barley Malt Syrup
Barley malt syrup has the same consistency as honey, but it has a malty flavor that’s often described as an acquired taste. Like brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup is half as sweet as sugar or honey. Unlike brown rice syrup though, barley malt syrup has a lower glycemic index than sugar. This alternative is best suited toward sauces and baked goods (particularly granola bars).
A healthier (though not necessarily healthy) alternative to honey due to its rich vitamin and mineral content, particularly iron, potassium, and copper. It’s also one of the less sweet of the honey alternatives, with a particularly strong flavor that verges on bitterness. While you can do a one-to-one ratio, blackstrap molasses is thicker than honey, so it might be better to use a little less.