Honey without bees? That seems as implausible as the time when I was 16 and my Israeli host parents offered me “ice cream without milk,” which totally blew my mind until they finally handed me the container from the freezer and I realized they just didn’t know how to say “sorbet” in English. But yes, there is a locally made sweetener that offers the sticky, oozy, candy-like sunshine of bee-made honey without involving a single insect. Bee Free Honee, a happy accident created by Minnesota native and former baker Katie Sanchez, harnesses the sugary goodness of apples to make a vegan-friendly sweetener that’s a close-but-not-quite replica of the real deal.
The daughter of a beekeeper who grew up on an orchard, Sanchez became a pastry chef who worked at D’Amico Cucina before moving onto an all-natural bakehouse in St. Paul. After a flawed attempt at making apple jelly one day, she noticed that she had in fact created a honey-like substance that could be used as a substitute for other vegan sweeteners. Years of experimentation helped Sanchez perfect the recipe without having to add chemical or gum ingredients, and by finding a cooperative of Midwestern orchards to provide the apples and a McGregor, MN, winery that allowed her to manufacture her product on site, she was able to take her honee to local co-ops and grocery stores.
On its own, the Bee Free Honee tastes remarkably similar to the bee-derived sweetener, but when sampled alongside real honey, the honee’s true apple flavor shines. Its sharp sweetness is quite powerful and can overwhelm the palate. The one-note sweetness of the honee stands out compared to the multi-tonality of a traditional clover honey, which has a floral quality that offers a variety of harmonious flavors. Paired with another sweet food, the honee might take the sugary sensation to 11, so it’s a better match for more bitter or spicy accompaniments. If you use it as a substitute for honey in baking, you may want to decrease the suggested amount on the first go-around to make sure you taste more than just honee.
So while I’ll probably stick with the familiar honey in a bear-shaped bottle as the dip for apples or pears, the Bee Free Honee will find its place on my table for drizzling on strong blue cheeses or a hearty slice of multi-grain toast. It may not echo every note in honey’s flavor rainbow, but honee admirably does its part in making your plate a little sweeter.
Bee Free Honee is available at several metro co-ops, Lunds / Byerly’s, Whole Foods, Surdyk’s, The Golden Fig, and Coastal Seafoods, among others.