Growing up, my mother would make me a comforting mug of “honey lemon” any time I got sick. This warm homemade brew was a simple sore throat recipe including ginger, sometimes echinacea tea, but it always had equal parts honey and lemon juice. It soothed my sore throat and cough wonderfully.
Honey has been used in this way forever, and science is catching up to what mom has always known. Various types of honey have been touted as natural cough suppressants and have even been proven more effective than cough medicines at helping children sleep through the night. Honey has even been shown to reduce the oral pathogen, Streptococcus mutans.
The variety of honey can determine its efficacy, or specialty. Studies have shown that biofilm-forming bacteria, such as some that cause respiratory infections, are susceptible to mānuka honey. This honey, from plants grown in the pristine volcanic soils of New Zealand, contains a compound called methylglyoxal (MGO) that makes it stand out.
It helps best when this type of honey is in direct contact with tissue, such as when the honey coats the throat and stomach lining to soothe and prevent irritation. This is easily done by enjoying mānuka honey in tea. However, like most honey, it is best enjoyed without overheating it. For this reason, steep your tea first, then add the honey when it has cooled slightly.
Another option is chewing or sucking on mānuka honey products. Unlike sugar, mānuka honey does not encourage the growth of oral bacteria and cavities, so you don’t have to worry about your teeth. In fact, one study showed that mānuka honey cuts plaque and gingivitis bacteria (another biofilm former) by up to half when the concentration of MGO is high enough.
Because putting mānuka honey in contact with irritated throat tissues is ideal, you would think that mānuka lozenges would be a great way to soothe a sore throat. However, I was not able to find any commercial ones with a guaranteed amount of MGO. In fact, all the ones I found had brown rice syrup and cane sugar as the top ingredients.
I found this disappointing, so I set out to make my own lozenges. What I discovered was that honey lozenges are made just like hard sugar candies, cooking the honey at high temps to force it to crystallize. That didn’t sit well with me, since I know honey must be unpasteurized and processed at low temperatures to preserve its antioxidants and enzymes.
I reached out to a respected honey industry professional, Les Stowell, to find out more. He confirmed cooking honey enough to cause caramelization will damage it. My research revealed that mutagenic, genotoxic, organotoxic and enzyme inhibitory (in other words, seriously bad) compounds can form from cooking honey to hard-ball stage.
I decided this was not okay—someone needed to make a better lozenge! I experimented to find a low-temperature method. I wanted a recipe that would coat and soothe the throat and could be consumed on the go and discovered that gummies were the answer. These were created using “honey lemon” as my inspiration and a MGO 250+ level mānuka honey.
Here is that recipe—enjoy!