In this article I want to tell you a whole lot of useful things about some of the most well-loved types of honey and a few of the amazing honey-containing products.
First of all, the most well known and most amazing product of them all – honey itself. The average worker bee flies 500 miles in her life and for all her efforts makes just half a teaspoon of honey. All the workers are female – a bit like the human world you ladies may say!
The aroma, flavor and appearance of honey depends primarily on the species of flower that the bees feed on. Most supermarket honey is blended from a number of types and you can’t tell anything about the type of flowers it came from. On top of that, most of these cheap honeys have been heated and sometimes ingredients added, to further destroy any of the natural properties and standardize the flavor.
To really get a feel for honey and what it is all about, I recommend that you go for raw, unheated honey. Only then will you be able to enjoy the stunning variety of tastes and aromas. By the way, you’ll only get the health benefits of honey from these unprocessed products too. If you want to really go to town, choose a honey that is made by bees from only one flower variety, such as the best of the famous manuka honey, the punchy buckwheat honey or the delicate tupelo honey, and you are on your way to understanding why man has been fascinated by the flavor of this complex product for thousands of years.
There are literally thousands of types of honey, but let’s take a look at the differences in taste, color and aroma in some of the main varieties from around the world:
This is one of the most well-publicized and hyped-up honeys in the world. It comes from New Zealand’s manuka bush, and a whole lot of research has found it to have some special healing properties, and that is the main reason why it is in such high demand. If you’re looking for a honey to eat, and you don’t care about it having the extra healing qualities that manuka has, then you may be better buying another type. The reason I say this is that manuka honey, because of its special health benefits, commands a high price. This honey tastes very distinctive, with a woody flavor, subtle caramels, and not too sweet. It is dark amber in color. I’ve got a whole page of information on manuka honey so please take a look, especially if you are interested in getting some hard facts on its health-giving properties, without the hype.
This is a real heavyweight among honeys. It’s mostly made in the northern-most states in the eastern half of the US from the flowers of the common buckwheat – and that’s not wheat, by the way. I have a whole page on buckwheat honey because it’s a real gem. It’s almost black in color until you shine light through and then you can see its true purple or copper color. Like manuka honey, this one is not over-sweet either, in fact less sweet than the manuka in my opinion. It has an rich, earthy aroma and a taste that you will never forget – deep and malty. Its robust flavor means that buckwheat honey has always been a favorite in cooking, because that deep taste will shine through whether you’re making a honey cake or spreading it on pancakes. A buying tip – you now know that pure buckwheat honey has a deep purple color, right – so if you’re offered buckwheat honey that’s lighter in color, it could still be a good honey, but it will have a proportion of honey from other flowers and it won’t be pure buckwheat.
If buckwheat is the bad boy of honeys, tupelo is the angel. This delicate honey product is made in a very small area of swampland in Florida, from the flowers of the tupelo tree. There are very few producers of the real thing which is a very special and valuable product. I’ve written the story of tupelo honey on a separate page and it makes for fascinating reading I promise you, but if you’re in a hurry here are the basics:
Tupelo honey is unique because of its high fructose/glucose ratio. This unique property means it can never set or crystallize, and it also means that it is absorbed by the body over a sustained period rather than giving a quick sugar rush that’s soon over. The honey is light amber in color, scented like a pear, and has a mild floral, herbal flavor. If you hand over hard currency for a jar of honey described as pure tupelo, and later you find that it has crystallized, you better ask for your money back – remember that pure tupelo never sets.
This honey is produced in Africa, Asia, Europe and of course North America. It’s quite a specialty in parts of Italy (Miele di Acacia) and France (Miel d’Acacia). It is made from the fragrant white or yellow pea-like flowers of a tree known as the acacia, the false acacia, the black locust or even the yellow locust. Its official name is robinia pseudoacacia. This tree grows up to 80 feet tall, and it’s hard to get rid of because of its habit of sprouting new trees from its spreading roots.
Acacia honey is very light in color and looks almost glass-like when poured. Its flavor is as light as its color, with floral, fruit and vanilla undertones. It is a great complement to mild cheeses, and one unusual feature is that it can be used as a sweetener in drinks without imparting a honey taste or aroma to the drink – which makes it good as a natural sweetener if you want to preserve the character of the drink it is added to. This honey has a high fructose content and because of this it stays liquid for longer than most honeys apart from tupelo honey, which never sets.
This honey is made from the nectar of heather flowers, high on the bleak moors of Scotland, Wales and some parts of Northern England. It’s a strong-tasting honey, and many people consider it to be the very best of honeys and will never be without it, yet others find it too strong at first. Some of these people will acquire a taste for it, and some will always hate it. Please take a look at the fascinating story of heather honey and the British moorlands.
Orange Blossom Honey
This popular honey will need little introduction to many. It comes from the highly-scented white blossoms of spring-flowering orange trees in the Southern US states, France and Spain. It is light amber in color, and the lighter the color, the more likely it originates from pure orange blossom. The best of these honeys have a fragrant orange blossom perfume, with a mild, floral flavor distinguished by a definite citrus tang. It is the favorite honey of a lot of people and is widely produced – but as usual, try and get unprocessed, raw honey for the best flavor.
OK, I know there are many other superb honeys out there, like the Tasmanian Leatherwood, Mesquite, Chestnut honey and Greek thyme honey to name but a few, and in time I will expand this page to give you the useful taste information and buying tips on these and other honeys.
Before we go on, you need to know that honey is BIG business – and because of this there are more than a few disreputable honey suppliers out there who will be very happy to take your money off you in return for inferior honey. Watch out for this:
Throughout my writing on honey you will know that for the best flavor and best medicinal qualities I always advise you to buy raw honey. But you need to know that there is no legal definition for “raw” honey, and anyone can try to label their honey as raw. So when you are looking for raw honey, you need to look for a fuller description that tells you the honey is unheated or unpasteurized, and sold pretty much as it was in the beehive. Unpressurized straining is fine, but heating is not. Oh, and the labels “Grade A”, “Pure” and “Grade 1″ will not tell you that a honey is raw. Take a look at my raw honey page for the low-down.
The term “organic” when applied to honey is the subject of continuing debate in the U.S. The Florida Department of Agriculture is hammering out a standard for organic honey that could become a national code, but as of now there is no enforced legal standard for organic honey in the U.S. The organic label is widely abused by disreputable producers and importers, probably because producing honey to the current organic guidelines is complex and expensive, and as there is no legal definition for organic, why bother? The current industry guidelines for organic honey, recommended to the FDA, state amongst other things that land within a four-mile radius of the hive (where the bees are likely to fly) has to have adequate organic sources of food and a low risk of the bees collecting contaminated nectar, say from crops sprayed with chemicals, or from freeway or urban pollution. This means of course that only really remote areas can produce organic honey, and that’s why there are so few genuine producers of true U.S. organic honey.
The same is even more true of European honeys. Unfortunately the law in Europe is so strict that it is very difficult to comply with it: land within a three kilometer radius of the beehive must all be either totally uncultivated or organic; and with no freeways or industrial land. So even the very best of European honey is rarely organic.
Where does that leave you if you want the best? Well, if you want truly organic product, you need to look for a producer who uses totally organic beekeeping methods and also has all of the beehives in remote areas that are totally wild. This is a rarity.
So PLEASE be careful when you see honey imported from some parts of the world that is labeled organic. Sometimes honey is labeled organic totally wrongly, and deliberately so. Worse still, in the U.S. there is no legal definition for honey itself, and unscrupulous producers and importers have been known to sell honey that has been diluted with a mix of sugar and water or corn syrup.
The best advice I can give is to at least make sure that the beekeeping is organic – no chemicals or pesticides used in the beehives, for example. This information is often proudly proclaimed on the websites of the best producers.
Now we’re going to change tack a little because I want to tell you about some of the other great products based on honey.
Honey mead or just mead is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey with yeast and water. Its alcoholic strength can be similar to beer, or similar to a sturdy wine at the other end of the scale. Also known as honey wine, this drink developed independently in numerous parts of the world over thousands of years and there are probably as many variations in the recipe as there are types of honey! One thing to beware of when buying mead is this – sometimes honey is added to conventional wine and passed off as mead. This is not mead, because the honey has not been fermented, and what you get in this case is a sickly-sweet concoction that is nothing like the real thing. Just because mead contains fermented honey does not mean it has to be sweet at all. Many meads are sweet, but some are dry as the desert.
This is a fantastic buttery, sweet spread that you can use on bread, toast, English muffins, waffles, pancakes, croissants – and just about anything else! Here is a recipe for you;
Butter – one cup
Honey – ½ cup
Optionally, add EITHER cinnamon ½ tablespoon OR a good slug of vanilla essence
Now look folks, the proportion of honey will vary a little according to what type of honey you use, and the flavor will be different if you use a stronger honey like buckwheat compared to a more delicate tupelo. No seriously, I would not use my best tupelo honey in honey butter – it would be like using 12-year-old malt whiskey to make egg nog – nice, oh yes, but pricey! I would maybe use the above proportions as a starting point, then add more honey or butter to get the taste and texture right for you. Please keep this in the refrigerator and keep it as long as you keep butter.
If you’re short of time, there’s a wide range of honey butters on the market – some good ones too.
Honey Cough Linctus
Most of us have heard of honey and lemon for a sore throat, and honey has been used as a cough linctus by many people, all over the world, for many years. I have some detailed information on the evidence for its effectiveness in my article on the health benefits of honey. The bottom line is that scientific evidence for using honey in this way is not conclusive, but you can always give it a try and see if it works for you – as long as you are not allergic to honey of course. Also note that current advice is that honey is not given to children under 12 months old.
Honey as a Moisturizer
There is a great choice of moisturizing products out there that use honey amongst their ingredients – hand creams, face creams, body lotions, balms, moisturizers and conditioners to name but a few. Now honey is not proven scientifically as a moisturizer, but it is known to be anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, and to help the skin’s healing process. So do these known properties make it a good moisturizer – the jury’s still out on that one.
If you want a really natural honey moisturizer, you can always make your own. Try this recipe:
Use half honey, half natural yogurt. Whisk the ingredients together and gently rub in. Leave for about 10 minutes then rinse with warm water.
Whether you make your own or choose one of the many honey moisturizing products out there, If it works for you – great!
Well thanks for reading another of my no-nonsense articles – hope you enjoyed it. Please browse around the World of Honey for a whole load of useful honey information, and come back again soon because as time goes on, I’m finding more and more fascinating honey facts to put on the site.