Honey. For many the word brings up some great memories; drizzled on a bowl of oatmeal, a huge spoonful to go in tea, honey cake for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana. The food is so loved it's even a term of endearment you might use to call your BFF or latest crush.
If you’re vegan, however, honey may not have the same sweet connotation. Since vegans don’t eat any animal products, honey is—along with meat, fish, eggs, and dairy foods—among the foods typically avoided.
Many people don’t even realize that honey is a non-vegan food. But it is, of course, a food that comes from bees. Animal rights activists argue that honey-collecting is an inhumane process in which people exploit bees for their own pleasure. There’s loads out there to read about why some people feel it's important to avoid honey.
The decision of whether or not to eat honey, however, is yours—and we’re not here to convince you one way or the other. What we are here for is to help make going a little more plant-based a whole lot easier. So if you love the flavor of honey and you’ve decided to forego honey, what animal-free foods can you use to get your sweet fix? Here are a few ideas:
Maple Syrup: Made from the boiled-down sap of maple trees as the winter temperatures begin to cool, this syrup is typically thinner in consistency than honey. The rich flavor, however, will add it’s own unique spin to any recipe.
Agave Nectar: While this ingredient may not be as nutritious as people once thought it was, it’s still an animal-free alternative to honey, made from the juice of the agave plant. Available in various levels of darkness, you can find the one that seems the most like honey to you.
Sorghum Syrup: Produced from the same plant that grows the sorghum grain, this flavorful syrup has long been popular in the south. It is now available in specialty stores all over (and of course online).
Maguey Syrup: This newcomer is thicker than maple syrup, with a richer flavor. It’s made from the maguey plant, a relative of the agave, and is native to Mexico.
Coconut Nectar: All things coconut—coconut oil, coconut water, coconut aminos—are hot right now, and coconut nectar is no exception. Made from the sap that comes from coconut blossoms, this honey-alternative is available in various varieties—from the milder blonde to the richer dark amber—so you can find the one that suits your palate.
Date paste: If you like to DIY it, this is the honey-alternative for you. Simply soak dates in water overnight. Remove the pits and pulse in a blender or food processor until smooth, adding water regularly to achieve desired consistency.
If you’re celebrating the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, which typically features many honey-laden foods to symbolize sweetness in the new year, any of these honey-alternatives would be perfect as a dip for honey or challah bread, or as an ingredient in a luscious dessert.
You can also check out these expert-approved vegan honey cake recipes!
What is your favorite honey alternative, and what do you use it for? Share in the comments section below!
SmartGirlVeg intern Leah Negrin has completed her degree in nutrition from Long Island University and is working towards her M.S. in Holistic Nutrition in order to help people heal their bodies with food. Check out her blog, Hot Green Life!
Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN is the author of The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian.