I’m not pollen your leg, vegan honey actually exists…and it’s fabulous!
And I don’t just mean syrups like agave or maple either (although they’re super delicious and certainly have their place), I’m talking about the real deal; molecularly identical honey but without the exploitation of bees.
Sounds sweet, right?
What’s more, there are plenty of brands using slightly simpler (albeit no less complex in flavour) methods to create their own bee-free honey.
In today’s blog, I’m going to answer some frequently asked questions about the beekeeping industry, honey, sustainability and veganism before sharing some of my favourite vegan honey available on the market right now, from direct alternatives to cooking substitutes.
I’ve even got an easy recipe so you can try making your own bee-free nectar at home.
Let’s get down to sticky business!
Why can't vegans eat honey? (Short answer)
Vegans can’t eat honey because it is food for the bees; taking it away for our own benefit is exploitative. What’s more, beekeeping is considered unethical due to common cruel practices that cause harm to the bees.
The long answer
To make just 450 grams of honey, a colony of bees has to fly 55,000 miles and visit two million flowers; no mean feat! There are plenty of other demanding steps along the way. And they go through all this effort to produce food for their colony, not just for funsies (and certainly not for you nor I).
But it’s a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship, isn’t it?
The commercial honey industry carries out numerous unethical practices on bees, including (but not limited to) selective breeding, artificial insemination (involving the crushing of male drones to extract semen), wing clipping, the sale of bees (delivered in the post), depopulation, hive culling and human error (poor insulation/food shortages/introduced disease or parasites).
Ok, well what about local sustainable beekeepers?
Whilst many local beekeepers avoid some of the cruel practices listed above, the definition of veganism is to avoid all forms of exploitation and taking advantage of bees to earn a living is a definite form of this. By purchasing the honey, one would also be participating in the exploitation. Even if one was not an ethical vegan and preferred to eat plant-based for environmental reasons, eating honey has a negative impact on the ecosystem.
Is it eco-friendly to keep bees? (Short answer)
Beekeeping (and purchasing products from beekeepers) is not eco-friendly. In fact, it can also have a negative impact on the environment due to the pressure caused by increasing honeybee populations on biodiversity, not to mention the introduction and spread of pathogens across colonies, wild bee populations and other arthropods.
The long answer
According to Friends of the Earth, 13 bee species went extinct in the UK since 1900. An additional 35 species are now on the threatened species list. And guess what? Honeybees aren’t on that list.
In fact, it has been proven that the growing interest in beekeeping is piling pressure on already fragile ecosystems. The promotion of a single species of bee is further driving the extinction of wild bee populations.
Biodiversity is hugely important for a healthy ecosystem. Honeybees have a voracious appetite and will gather nectar and pollen incredibly efficiently, easily outcompeting wild bees and driving them away from the area. And because wild bees pollinate a wider variety of flowers, their decline will reduce the reproduction of wild flowers, which perpetuates the cycle of pollinator extinction.
The postage and sharing of bees, even done at a local level, is also supporting the rapid spread of pathogens, spilling over to all sorts of arthropods, not just other species of bees. Selective breeding has further contributed to this problem by decreasing the gene pool of honeybees and weakening their immune systems over time.
Perhaps I am speaking harshly but it seems obvious to me why one would choose to “save” this particular species of bee despite the fact their protection is having such a huge knock-on effect on the ecosystem: because honey is delicious.
It reminds me of the popular hunting argument, where hunters claim they kill deer to deal with overpopulation. Isn’t it convenient that this method of “conservation” also benefits hunters by giving them an excuse to do something they quite clearly enjoy? But the problem of overpopulation persists, which is why it’s so curious that we don’t employ a more efficient method; a method that actually prevents overpopulation (rather than allowing us to eat the consequences). One such effective (and considerably more humane) method springs to mind: sterilisation.
Anyway, I digress. My point is that if you really want to help the bees, you should read my answer to the next FAQ…
How can we protect the bees?
You can do your bit to save the bees by:
- Surveying wild bee populations
- Repurposing land used for animal agriculture
- Rewilding our spaces, including gardens, yards, balconies and even windowsills
- Growing more wildflower meadows
- Protecting existing habitats
- Planning our land usage wisely
- Going vegan and eating the amazing honey alternatives listed in this blog post!
Here are the best vegan honey alternatives
Honea by Plant Based Artisan
Honea is a bee-free honey alternative handcrafted in the UK and quite possibly the second best thing I’ve ever tasted on crumpets (the first being Honea Butter, also made by Plant Based Artisan).
Delicately sweet with floral notes and hints of apple, Honea certainly tastes like the real thing. It’s also super good for your gut since it’s made from inulin, a prebiotic! Prebiotics feed the friendly bacteria hanging out in your intestines, making sure they have plenty of fuel to do all sorts of good things. That’s why I love to eat this vegan honey alternative for breakfast after my morning shot of Symprove probiotics.
What’s more, there are plenty of varieties to choose from including Original, Soft Set, Elderflower, Lavender, Lemon Qurd and (my all-time favourite) Honea But+er!
Vegan Honeee by Sweet Freedom
A vegan honey syrup made from natural fruit extracts, this alternative is a brand new product from Sweet Freedom! Unlike some of the more artisanal products, this syrup is already available to buy from Ocado and will likely be on the shelves of more supermarkets across the UK before you can say “it’s the bee’s knees!”
Spoonful of Fibre Pure Inulin Syrup by Troo
This alternative is absolutely packed full of fibre (65%!), so it’s not for the faint-hearted (or those with sensitive tummies). The chicory root fibre (inulin) helps support a healthy digestive system, feeds your friendly gut bacteria and also helps manage blood sugar levels.
We recommend using less than a teaspoon of this plant-based honey substitute unless you’re planning on gassing a room out.
Honey w/o Bees by MeliBio
If you thought fermentation couldn’t get any more awesome than sourdough bread and natural wine, then you’re missing a trick. The world’s first real honey made without exploiting the humble honeybee, MeliBio’s Honey w/o Bees is molecularly identical so you can experience the coveted complexity of flavour and viscosity that honey lovers so desire.
During the process of fermentation, microorganisms digest a food supply and produce desirable products, such as beer, bread and cheese. In the case of precision fermentation, yeast cells can be tailored to consume specific food sources and produce the substance of interest (e.g. egg, milk & heme proteins, enzymes, fats, natural pigments, etc.), which is then isolated and amassed to create commodities such as animal-free honey, dairy milk and even meat – just another way that fungi are changing the world!
MeliBio recently showcased their vegan honey at the Vegan Women’s Summit 2022 and can already be found in restaurants and cafes across the US, such as Little Choc. Here’s hoping it reaches UK shores very soon!
Other common vegan alternatives to honey
Whilst the above suggestions are direct replacements for honey, sometimes vegans just want something to use as a sweetener in a cheesecake recipe or to drizzle copiously over pancakes. In this case, there are plenty of other substitutes that will do the trick:
Agave syrup is a naturally occurring sweetener obtained from the agave plant, it comes in a variety of shades offering different depths of flavour. It has a much lower glycemic index than granulated sugar and has a similar consistency to honey.
Made by extracting sap from sugar maple trees, maple syrup has a distinctive flavour that differs significantly from honey. However, it’s super sweet and a brilliant alternative that can be used in the same context.
Date syrup is made by heating dates in water, blending the mixture, filtering it and then evaporating the water to obtain the vitamin- and nutrient-rich nectar that is left behind. It’s less sweet than honey and maple syrup but it has a delicious caramel-like flavour.
Brown rice syrup
A thick and dark sweetener derived from – you guessed it – brown rice! Whilst it’s fructose-free and vegan, brown rice syrup contains few nutrients and is a high GI food, so use this honey alternative in moderation.
Earthy, woody and subtly nutty in flavour, sorghum syrup is a nutritionally rich honey alternative made from an ancient grain. The sorghum crop is drought-resistant and has high yield security, making it a conceivable climate change-resistant alternative to sugar cane. Only problem is, it’s more difficult to find!
This honey substitute is an excellent choice for vegans looking to increase their iron content; just one tablespoon yields 20% of the recommended daily value! It’s much thicker and darker than honey though, with a more bitter flavour.
Make your own vegan honey
Here’s a recipe for sticky, oozy, floral, syrupy vegan honey using only freshly foraged dandelion flowers, organic sugar, a lemon and water…simples!
Apple and chamomile
For a calming jar of plant-based nectar, check out this luscious apple and chamomile vegan honey recipe.