Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign say that honey may be a healthier alternative to corn syrup due to its higher level of antioxidants, compounds which are believed to fight cancer, heart disease and other diseases.
Honey, which contains a number of antioxidant components that act as preservatives, also shows promise as a replacement for some synthetic antioxidants widely used as preservatives in salad dressings and other foods, according to Nicki Engeseth, associate professor of food chemistry at the university.
High fructose syrups, known as isoglucose in Europe, kicked off in the US in the 1970s when the country developed new technologies to process this bulk calorific sweetener. The ingredient, an alternative to sucrose, rapidly gained in popularity and is now used extensively by soft drinks makers such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
Honey, a natural syrup produced by bees is similar to invert sugar, with a small but variable excess of levulose (fructose). The composition and flavour of honey varies with the plant source of the nectar, processing and storage but a typical composition is 41 per cent fructose, 34 per cent glucose, 18 per cent water, and 2 per cent sucrose with a pH of 3.8 to 4.2.
According to the US researchers, dark-coloured honey, such as buckwheat honey, is generally thought to contain higher levels of antioxidants than the light-coloured varieties. Previous studies by the researchers, who presented their findings this week at the American Chemical Society meeting in Illinois, suggest that honey may have the same level of disease-fighting antioxidants as that of some common fruits.
Competition for European suppliers of honey ramped up recently when Brussels cleared the way to end a two-year ban on food imports from China, paving the way for cheaper raw materials for honey formulations.
Meeting at the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health in July member states cleared a Commission proposal to allow Chinese imports of honey, lifting a ban imposed on the product in 2002 after the antibiotic - chloramphenicol -was found to be present.
In international terms China is currently by far the largest honey producing nation in the world, with around a 40 per cent slice of the market. The next biggest producers are the US, Argentina and Ukraine.
According to the American Honey Producers Association, China and Argentina have been adversely affecting America's domestic honey industry with cheap imports, although there is a counter argument that both China and Argentina have been helping to counterbalance falling production in the US. Also starting to emerge onto the world honey production arena are Thailand and Vietnam.