Honey Versus Sugar

Honey is nature's sweetener. It has a distinctive taste and is considered by many to be healthier than plain sugar. It's also more expensive. Is it worth the extra expense? Hopefully this comparison will help you decide.


Honey is a natural sweetener that is produced by honey bees from flower nectar. Unlike highly refined white sugar, the only processing that honey undergoes, aside from the bees regurgitating the nectar, is filtering to remove wax and other impurities.

The aroma, color, and flavor of honey can vary considerably depending on the plant source. For example, the color of honey can range from very pale yellow through golden ambers to a darkish red amber.

Honey mainly consists of glucose and fructose. It also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals as well as tiny amounts of compounds that may function as antioxidants. The specific components of a particular batch of honey will depend on the flowers available to the bees that made the honey.


Sugar is derived from sugar cane or sugar beets. The raw sugar is extracted from the plant and refined in a variety of ways to create white sugar, brown sugar, or molasses. The degree of processing results in different degrees of whiteness and crystal size.

Sugar is extracted from sugarcane by crushing the stalks to release sweet juices, and then evaporating the juices to produce a concentrated raw sugar "crumble". Sugar beets are washed, sliced, and passed through a diffuser to extract the sugar into a water solution. This solution is then partially evaporated and fed to a crystallizer to produce raw sugar.

Refined white sugar is pure sucrose, a white, odorless, crystalline carbohydrate that packs 4 calories per gram. For comparison, fat contains 9 calories per gram. Sucrose lacks the vitamins and minerals found in honey so it truly does provide empty calories.


Honey and sugar contain a similar number of calories: honey has about 21 calories per teaspoon, and sugar has about 15. However, honey is slightly sweeter than sugar so you may end up using slightly less honey to get your sweetness fix.

Health Benefits

A number of health benefits are attributed to honey including antibacterial and antifungal properties, improved body immunity due to the presence of antioxidants, inflammation control, and enhanced healing. Honey combined with milk is used to moisturize and smooth skin. Furthermore, because honey contains simpler sugars than table sugar, it is easier for the body to digest.

Recent research indicates that honey may improve athletic performance. It reportedly helps to maintain blood sugar levels, muscle recuperation and glycogen restoration after a workout. Other research hints that honey may inhibit cancer growth.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no advantage to using honey instead of sugar as far as controlling blood sugar. Both affect blood sugar in the same way. The glycemic index (GI) of sugar is around 60, similar to that of many commercially produced honey blends, although there are so-called floral honeys with a GI in the 30-40 range.  The healthiest course of action is to consume either sweetener in moderation.

Other Considerations

Sugar is much less expensive than honey because it is mass produced throughout the world. Honey production is much smaller scale - after all, there are only so many bees in the world and they make the honey at their own pace.

Sugar can be used to sweeten fruits and other foods without greatly changing their basic taste. In contrast, honey has a distinctive taste that not everyone appreciates.