The combination of “spicy” and “sweet” holds a lauded position in many international cuisines, with chefs and diners celebrating the way that these seemingly contradictory flavors complement each other. From General Tso’s chicken to Mexican chocolate, the popularity of spicy-sweet foods shows no signs of dying down, much to the delight of this writer, a self-proclaimed heat fiend.
In recent years, a condiment that perfectly encapsulates the spicy & sweet appeal has carved out a major niche for itself, and its name is “hot honey.” Companies like Mike’s Hot Honey and Bees Knees successfully sell pre-made versions of this treat, but it’s surprisingly easy to make at home, and we’re here to guide you through the process.
What is “hot honey”?
“Hot honey” refers to an infusion of hot peppers (either fresh or dried) added to honey (either pasteurized or raw). The sugar in the honey absorbs the capsaicin from the peppers and mitigates its harsher effects, resulting in a sweet liquid with a welcome kick of heat.
Be thoughtful about your choice of peppers.
When making hot honey, it’s important to remember that all hot peppers are not created equal. Different peppers hold different positions on the Scoville scale (which measures “heat units”), so you’ll need to consider your desired level of spiciness before selecting your infusion peppers. “It’s really easy to customize small batches with different levels and complexities of heat. To do so, one can simply add more or less of any one type of pepper to taste, or simply use different types of chilies to cater to the desired flavors. My personal favorite is a mild Serrano pepper hot honey, so I can appreciate the flavors from both the honey and the pepper at the same time, without the pepper dominating the experience,” says food blogger and recipe developer Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon.
When infused, pasteurized honey and raw honey yield different results.
Raw honey, or honey that has never been processed or pasteurized, has multitudes of fans and enjoys a dominant presence at natural food stores and farmers markets, largely thanks to its nuanced flavor profile. While it’s possible to make hot honey with the raw stuff, it’s also worth noting that raw honey has a tendency to crystallize (whereas pasteurized honey typically remains in liquid form). Crystallization affects both the texture and the flavor of the honey, so if you’d prefer to keep your infused hot honey as a squeezable/drizzle-friendly liquid, then pasteurized honey is probably the way to go.
How should you use hot honey?
The simplest answer to this question: However you like! Hot honey’s potential uses are legion, as it can function as a replacement for either sweet honey or hot sauce. But if you’re looking for specific suggestions, try this list of ideas all personally vetted by the author of this story:
- Drizzle over a slice of pizza (especially pepperoni) or use as a dip for your pizza crust.
- After spreading butter onto a slice of toast, add a bit of hot honey.
- Squeeze into a hot toddy.
- Add to a marinade for chicken, pork, beef, or grilled mushrooms.
- Use it as a topping for ice cream (vanilla or rocky road make for especially great pairings).
- Whisk it into maple syrup and pour over chicken & waffles.
These 2 recipes offer up two different (but equally delicious) ways of infusing your honey with some heat:
Habanero Hot Honey
(By Chris Riley, recipe developer and founder, The Daring Kitchen)
With a Scoville Heat Unit count of 100,000-350,000 (for reference, the jalapeño clocks in at 2,500-8,000 SHUs), the habanero pepper delivers some serious fire power, but it’s equally notable for its delicate, fragrant, almost citrusy flavor. Recipe developer Chris Riley chooses habaneros as the fresh component in Riley’s hot honey, using dried peppers to round out the heat and taste dimensions.
- 12 oz (1.5 cups) honey
- 4 habanero peppers, chopped
- 4 small dried peppers, chopped (optional; Riley uses Hawaiian hots, dried Thai chiles, or chiles de arbol)
- Add the chopped peppers and honey to a small saucepan or pot. On medium heat, let the honey mixture simmer for 5 minutes so that the honey can be infused with the peppers’ flavor and spiciness.
- Remove the honey from the heat and let it cool. You can leave the chopped peppers in the honey or strain it through a fine mesh sieve. You can toss the peppers, or enjoy them as they are.
- Pour the honey in an airtight glass container and store it in the fridge.
Bayou-Honey Hot Sauce
(By David Guas, chef owner, Bayou Bakery, Arlington, Virginia)
If you’re craving hot honey but don’t have immediate access to fresh or dried chilies, then you’ll be glad to know that hot sauce can sub in for the peppers. In his recipe, David Guas adds butter to a combination of honey and Louisiana-style hot sauce, which helps to reduce the hot sauce’s vinegar flavor and to create a condiment with limitless possible uses.
- .5 cup Louisiana-style hot sauce (Guas prefers Crystal)
- 5 tbsps honey (Guas prefers Tupelo honey)
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- Put the hot sauce and the honey in a one-quart, 6- to 8-inch skillet and stir to combine.
- Simmer on medium-high heat for 6 to 7 minutes until reduced by half.
- Remove from heat and whisk in one tablespoon of unsalted and softened butter. Serve immediately.
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