In addition to being beloved for its soothing, naturally sweet flavor, honey has always been on the cusp of superfood status. It’s a sweetener, yes, but it’s also a rich source of antioxidants and has antimicrobial properties. All good for squeezing into lemon tea when you have a sore throat, but there are times the overwhelmingly sweet flavor can fall a little flat when paired with savory foods—no kick, spice, or edge. The solution is simple: Hot honey.
Hot honey is the buzzy type of honey that people are using for its healing properties as well as its spicy kick that balances out the sweetness factor. Not only do you get the same benefits found in traditional honey (and then some), but also you’ll get that bit of heat to fire up the flavor of your dish and add more potency to whatever you’re drizzling it on.
Here’s what to know about hot honey, what makes it so beneficial and popular, and how best to enjoy it in your diet.
Hot honey health benefits
You may want to enjoy hot honey when you’re feeling under the weather. “Hot honey may benefit you when you have a sore throat or cough, and while there aren’t published studies on hot honey specifically, both honey and capsaicin, the key compound researched in hot peppers, have studies supporting their use for throat relief,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
“What’s more, both honey and capsaicin are also shown to have anti-microbial and anti-viral properties, which means that hot honey may help support a healthy immune system,” she explains. “In addition, having more complex, vibrant flavors present in a meal may help increase your overall satisfaction with your food.”
You will also get a good dose of oligosaccharides from hot honey, which are complex carbohydrates similar to fiber, meaning you don’t actually digest or absorb them. Instead, they end up in the large intestine to benefit the microbiome and introduce good gut flora and feed the probiotics (aka healthy bacteria) in the gut. And while more research is needed, review studies have shown honey to be helpful in wound treatment, gastrointestinal distress, and even bronchial function in asthmatics.
If you can, go with a raw hot honey brand. “If you’re choosing a hot honey made with raw honey, which hasn’t been treated with high heat, you’ll also benefit from a lower glycemic effect,” says Jones. A lower glycemic index means it will cause less of a dramatic spike (and subsequent crash) in your blood sugar.
How to enjoy hot honey at home
While many of us never forget to add spice (like cayenne, turmeric, or paprika) to savory recipes, we tend to ignore the element of sweetness. This is certainly an oversight—combining sweet-spicy or sweet-sour flavor notes in foods is a super simple way to layer in complexity, or to elevate an otherwise bland dish. Those who love Mexican hot chocolate, hot pepper jelly, mango salsa, or even the mandarin orange chicken from Trader Joe’s know this all too well.
Pair hot honey with veggies to add a bit of sweet and spiciness to a side dish or salad. Roasted eggplant, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are two prime examples. “Once the veggies are roasted to your desired texture, stir in or drizzle on a squeeze of hot honey before serving alongside protein, like baked salmon” Jones says. “It’s super easy and delicious!”
You can also use it in crispy fish tacos, like those made with white fish or tuna. “Coat your favorite fish in a little cornstarch before air frying or baking and add to soft corn shells with some shredded cabbage. Drizzle your hot honey on before adding a squeeze of lime,” she says. Instant vibrancy.
Use hot honey to make breakfast foods more savory, as opposed to sweet. “Top your oatmeal with leftover roasted veggies and an egg or two before drizzling some hot honey overtop,” she says. You can also squeeze it over Greek yogurt topped with sliced almonds or cinnamon-scented granola plus pomegranate seeds or other fresh fruit.
The same goes with avocado toast. “Personally, I love when my avocado toast hits on both sweet and savory notes, and hot honey checks both of those boxes beautifully,” Jones adds. You can also squeeze hot honey on pizzas, serve it alongside cheese and crackers, or use as a topping for frozen yogurt or ice cream. “My favorite? Build a pizza with a vegetable and protein topping, like shrimp and spinach, and then add hot honey as a topping.”
Best hot honey brands
Mike’s Hot Honey ($10) is a classic and much-loved brand. It’s available online but also has distribution in grocery stores nationwide. “Mike’s is infused with chiles so it’s great for palates of those who like a medium heat,” says Jones. It also has a tangy kick thanks to a hint of vinegar (hello, perfect roasted Brussels sprouts), and contains no artificial sugar or preservatives. To dial up the heat, try Mike’s Extra Hot Honey.
Bee’s Knees honey ($14) is another artisanal and delicious hot honey. It combines wildflower honey from the Hudson Valley with a spicy mix of chili peppers. Adding a squeeze to your morning oatmeal is a power move.
How to make your own hot honey at home
It’s super easy to DIY hot honey, which will certainly come in handy once you’ve started experimenting with it at every meal. But to be fair, it may lose some nutritional value when you make it from scratch. “Hot honey does involve heating honey, so if you’ve bought honey raw, know this may reduce the antioxidant content and alter those oligosaccharides,” says Jones.
The fix is easy. “Rather than bringing your honey to a boil as often suggested, try keeping it to a light simmer when you add other ingredients,” she says. For a shortcut, no-heat version, you can also just stir 1 tablespoon of hot sauce into a quarter cup of raw honey. “For a hot honey recipe that’s richer in flavor as opposed to being just sweet and having some heat, simmer 8-12 ounces of honey with 3-5 roughly chopped red chili or habanero peppers for about 5 minutes,” says Jones. Allow the honey to cool before straining out the peppers. Store in a closed container.
BTW, homemade hot honey is the ideal party favor—but we wouldn’t judge if you’d rather keep it all for yourself.