Honey is the golden ingredient for 2015.

Named Flavor of the Year by Firmenich, honey is being recognized for its unique flavor and versatility — just in time for National Honey Month.

"We are thrilled to be named Flavor of the Year for 2015. We have seen honey grow exponentially in its use with chefs, manufacturers and consumers over the last few years, especially with yogurt, craft beers and baked goods," says Catherine Barry, director of marketing, National Honey Board. "With consumers preferences leaning towards artisanal, natural and clean-label ingredients; we believe consumers are realizing the potential of honey as a premier ingredient in foods and beverages."

Honey's popularity is certainly growing.

It won the award from Firmenich in part because it has potential to become a classic flavor, joining vanilla, chocolate and strawberry in the prestigious category.

According to a Consumer Sweetener Usage and Attitudes Study Report by NHB, 6 out of 10 consumers prefer honey-sweetened food to food made with other sweeteners. And 46 percent of consumers in the study have used honey in the past month, signifying growth and demand of honey both on menus and in households.

"Product developers are realizing what a fantastic and versatile flavor honey is in regards to combining it with other tonalities, making honey an easy choice for Flavor of the Year," says Patrick Salord, senior flavorist, Firmenich.

Honey has been used in combination with many flavor profiles and in many different foods. Craft beers, cocktails and functional beverages have all used honey. So have many baked goods and snack bars, making honey a sought-after flavor option.

With more than 300 varietals in the United States alone, honey caters to all taste preferences with its different flavors and appearances. Lighter-colored honeys are milder in flavor, while darker ones boast more robust flavors, making it easy for chefs and product makers to find the perfect pairings.

Cookbook author and TV personality chef David Guas uses the versatile ingredient on his restaurant menus, in recipes and at home.

"I have more than 100 different honey varietals I use when cooking for my family," he says. "When I'm looking for an ingredient to add depth to my menus, I know that honey will balance and complement a variety of foods and marry flavors from sweet, sour, bitter, salty and even savory."

 Apart from its flavors, honey also has functional benefits for cooking and baking. It enhances freshness and shelf life by sealing in moisture; acts as a binder and thickener for sauces, dressings and marinades; can be substituted for granulated sweeteners; and can serve as a simple syrup in beverages.