I like to think of buckwheat honey as the tall dark stranger in the honey crowd. There will be many who are beguiled by its unique charms, but to others its pleasures will remain an enigma. It’s the alter-ego of the mild, light tupelo honey.
The Common Buckwheat Plant
This unusual honey is made by bees that collect pollen and nectar from the little pink flowers of the common buckwheat plant. This plant, official name “Fagopyrum esculentum”, is often thought of as a cereal but isn’t one – it’s not a wheat at all. The “wheat” part of its name comes from the fact that the seeds are often used for similar purposes to wheat. The “buck” part of the name evolved from “beech” (it was sometimes called beechwheat) because its seeds are triangular, a little like smaller versions of beech nuts. These buckwheat seeds are often used as an alternative to wheat for making flour. The flour has no gluten, and is traditionally used in blinis.
The Honey we get from Buckwheat
Buckwheat honey is made in Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania and Canada. It’s coppery or purple in color – but is often known as “black” honey because it looks black unless the light is shining through it. It has a pleasant hay-like, earthy smell, and an unforgettable malty, rich, molasses flavor which is not over-sweet. Because of the depth of flavor, it’s good for use in pancakes or, say, honey cake where you want the honey taste to come up through the other ingredients.
Medical Benefits of Buckwheat Honey
There are a lot of claims and a lot of folklore out there about the health benefits of honey, but if you look hard enough you can find some hard evidence that relates to buckwheat honey in particular.
For example, a study by A.J.J. van den Berg and others, reported in the Journal of Wound Care in 2008, tested a range of honeys for antioxidant properties, which is a key factor in wound healing capability. The study found that buckwheat honey was up to 30 times as effective as an antioxidant (which promotes wound healing) as the least-effective honey used in the study.
Buying Buckwheat Honey
Whenever you are buying any honey for its health-giving properties, you should try to get honey that is as close to what it was when it came out of the hive. Heating (such as pasteurisation) destroys the vital properties, so always look for raw, unheated, untreated honey. If you can find a good local supplier, so much the better, but you can find reputable producers of buckwheat honey on the internet. Remember that this type of honey should be really dark purple in color – if someone tries to sell you buckwheat honey and it’s a lighter color, this means it came from hives where the bees fed too much on other types of plant, so you’re getting a less pure product.