Can You Use Honey Instead of Sugar for Yeast?

Honey is one of the oldest ingredients used in food preparation. It has been a popular ingredient in baking since prehistoric times because of its unique taste and sweetness. In this article, I aim to explore the effects of replacing sugar with honey on yeast doughs.

Doughs that use honey, such as gingerbread cookies, typically rely on baking soda as a rising agent.
However, you may also come across yeast dough recipes that include honey.

Honey and table sugar both contain glucose and fructose, which yeast can feed on. However, due to the unique flavor and chemical composition of honey, the taste and texture of baked goods will differ from those made with sugar.

It is worth mentioning that sugar is not absolutely necessary for yeast activity, as it can obtain nutrients from flour. However, it takes longer for the dough to rise without sugar.

Differences between table sugar and honey

Composition: Table sugar or sucrose is composed of glucose and fructose molecules, while honey is a natural sweetener consisting of a variety of sugars, including glucose, fructose, and sucrose, as well as water and trace amounts of minerals and enzymes.

Taste: Table sugar has no unique taste other than sweetness, while honey has a distinctive flavor depending on the type of flower the bees make it from.

A jar of Greek orange blossom honey with a honey dipper.
Greek orange blossom honey

Processing: Plain sugar loses all its useful components during processing and refining. On the other hand, honey is a natural, unrefined sweetener that contains minerals and enzymes as long as it has not been heated to high temperatures.


Glycemic index: Table sugar has a glycemic index of 65, which means it raises blood sugar levels faster than honey, which has a glycemic index of 58. Honey is also lower in calories than sugar.

Nutritional value: While table sugar provides only empty calories, honey contains a trace amount of nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins B and C, iron, calcium, and potassium.

Effects of Substituting Sugar with Honey in Yeast Doughs

Honey is a natural sweetener that can enhance the texture and flavor of bakery products made with yeasted dough, as shown by a study published in the Journal of Food Processing and Preservation on the use of honey powder instead of sugar in bread.

  • The unique floral and fruity flavor profile of honey matches well with the toasty, nutty flavor that develops in baked goods during baking.
  • Honey is more hygroscopic than sugar, so it absorbs and retains more moisture. Baked products made with the addition of honey stay fresh and soft for longer.
  • Yeast dough products made with honey brown at a lower temperature than those made with sugar, resulting in a deeper crust color.
Honey bread recipe

Tips on replacing sugar with honey in yeast doughs

When substituting honey for sugar, it’s important to note that honey is 25% sweeter than sugar. This is especially important for recipes with a higher amount of sugar. If the recipe calls for a small amount of sugar, it can be replaced with honey in a 1:1 ratio.

According to Bee Culture, honey typically contains 15-20% water. Therefore, the amount of water or milk used for the dough should also be reduced slightly. If the recipe does not contain water, you can add 1-2 spoons more flour.

Doughs with high sugar and honey content take longer to rise due to sugar inhibiting gluten formation. Longer rising times or the use of slightly more yeast may be necessary for such doughs.


However, when mixing yeast doughs, make sure that the yeast does not come into direct contact with sugar or honey. Since both are hygroscopic, they can kill the yeast.

By following these tips, you can successfully use honey as a substitute for sugar in your favorite yeast-based recipes. Speaking of substituting dough ingredients, I recommend my article on whether you can replace water with milk in yeast doughs.

Final thoughts

To summarize, honey is a good alternative to sugar for yeast doughs. While both provide glucose and fructose for yeast to feed on, honey can improve the texture, flavor, and moisture retention of baked goods, and it can also result in a deeper crust color.

However, it is important to remember that honey is sweeter than sugar, and contains moisture, so adjustments should be made accordingly when substituting honey for sugar in recipes. By following these tips, you can successfully use honey in your favorite yeast-based recipes, providing a unique and flavorful twist on traditional baked goods.

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