Dear 100 Hour Board,
I would like to make some 100% pure honey candy, but all the recipes I can find online have sugar added to them. Is there some chemical reason why I couldn't just boil pure honey to the hard crack stage and make candy out of it? Why do I have to include some sugar?
Unless you want to caramelize the sugar in it, the point of cooking a syrup is just to reduce its water content until it reaches the desired hardness (see Science of Cooking, which describes the way the moisture decreases as the syrup is heated to higher temperatures). My initial hypothesis was that adding sugar to the honey is just a way to reduce the proportion of water to sugar, which would speed along the cooking process.
But dearest Aardvark, how could I leave you with just an untested hypothesis? Please. This is the 100 Hour Board, not Yahoo! Answers.
I used two different ingredient combos: the first was pure honey, and the second was two parts honey to one part white sugar (both coming to the same volume). For both recipes, I boiled them on medium-high heat until they reached the hard crack stage, then poured the candy into an oiled pan, let it cool, and shattered the candy into bite-sized pieces.
Figure 1: The experimental set-up
Here are the comparisons I thought would be important:
Color: The pure honey candy was a darker amber color, which wasn't surprising, considering it wasn't adulterated with the white sugar. Both candies had a uniform, translucent color.
Figure 2: Pure honey candy
Figure 3: Honey-and-sugar candy
Texture: Both candies set up equally well, with a nice snap to them, and no graininess.
Sweetness: Equivalent. My taste-testers could detect no difference in sweetness.
Flavor: Both candies had a pleasant honey flavor, but unsurprisingly, the pure honey candy had a stronger flavor, and the floral overtones were much easier to detect. Taste-testers liked both candies: most tasters preferred the stronger flavor of the pure honey candy, but some liked the mild flavor of the honey-and-sugar candy. It probably depends on how much you like the flavor of honey.
Cooking time: This was the criterion that actually tested my hypothesis. If I was right, I would have expected the honey-and-sugar candy to reach the hard crack stage faster than the pure honey candy. It turned out that both candies took exactly the same time to cook—thirteen minutes in either case.
Clearly, the purpose of adding sugar wasn't to reduce cooking time, and it didn't improve the candy's appearance, texture, sweetness, or flavor. It was only when I was typing this up that I had a minor epiphany: white sugar is cheaper than honey. I am rather sure that the reason most recipes call for sugar to be added is that it allows the more expensive honey to go further without significantly reducing the quality of the candy. Mystery solved.