Jesse Brauner

The cultural importance of honey is based, in large part, on its sweet flavor. While some symbolic meanings of this foodstuff are easy to understand, others may come as quite a surprise.

For many of the world's early civilizations, honey occupied a unique position, both as a culinary staple and as a cultural symbol. The only major source of sweetness available, honey was used to flavor drinks (mead is a prime example), pastries, and all manner of other foods. This sweetness also had symbolic connotations, and honey was associated with heavenly bliss and the divine: The Greeks made offerings of cakes, wine, and honey to their deities, and the Promised Land of the ancient Hebrews was described as “flowing with milk and honey”. During the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah, held to celebrate the New Year, it is customary to eat fruit that has been dipped fruit in honey to ensure blessings for a “sweet” year.

The association of honey with the divine also made it a symbol of immortality. One reason behind this particular symbolism may not be immediately obvious, but it has strong roots in reality; honey acts as a natural preservative and possesses strong antiseptic qualities. It’s even been discovered that honey found in jars dating back thousands of years (they were placed in the tombs of ancient Egyptian rulers) is still sanitary enough to be consumed today (thought it would probably be wise to use caution in such attempts).

Although such lofty notions as heaven and immortality may no longer attach themselves to honey, the sweetness of this foodstuff is still acknowledged, both consciously and unconsciously. Someone may be told that they speak in ‘honeyed tones’ or use ‘honeyed words’, meaning they are very flattering and eloquent. It is also common for people to affectionately refer to their loved ones as ‘hon’ or ‘honey’ as part of the common language.

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