World of Honey

Tupelo Honey

Introduction

Tupelo honey is sort of the opposite end of the honey scale to buckwheat honey.   It is light where buckwheat is dark; it is mild where buckwheat is heavy.

Split tupelo tree.  Photo by flickr.com/photos/lucianvenutian/

Split tupelo tree. Photo by flickr.com/photos/lucianvenutian/

The Tupelo Tree

This plant, which has about 10 separate species, has dark green, waxy, shiny leaves which glow red in the fall.  It has white flowers and likes its roots to be in wet ground.  Tupelo wood is greate for carving because the sap wood is soft and able to hold finely-detailed carving. The best carving wood comes from the underwater base of the tree.   In the U.S. this tree is cultivated specially for honey along the Gulf Coast.  One particular area, the swamps along the Apalachicola River valley in Florida, produces the purest, most expensive Tupelo honey.

The Honey

The highest-grade certified tupelo honey is from the white tupelo flowers, which bloom for a short season of only two or three weeks – and that’s if there’s no bad weather.  The whole industry comprises a handful of producers who work their beehives in a small area of the swamps of Apalachicola River valley.  Producing this honey is laborious.  The hives themselves are kept on platforms or rafts along the swamp beds.  Then, just before the flowering season, they have to be emptied of honey reserves that would have been made from the flowers of other plants, and the honey has to be harvested as soon as the petals of the white tupelo flowers fall to the surface of the water, otherwise it would be mixed with honey from later flowering plants.
Pure tupelo honey has an unusually high frustose to glucose ratio, which makes it unique among honeys.  This property prevents it from crystallizing, unlike other honey.  So if you buy tupelo honey and it later crystallizes, this means it must have been made from other plants and not just the tupelo tree.
The high frustose content of this honey allows the body to absorb it more quickly initially, but to maintain that absorption over a sustained period, which makes it very useful for people who need a fast-acting but lasting energy source, such as athletes.

The real thing is a light amber color, and looks like it has a greenish tint in some lights.  Its scent is a little like that of a pear, and the taste is delicate, floral and slightly herbal, a real contrast to the heavyweight buckwheat honey.

Medical Benefits of Tupelo Honey

The unique thing about tupelo honey is its high frustose ratio.  This makes it faster to digest, and makes it suitable for some diabetics – but check with your physician first folks.  Raw, unprocessed, unheated tupelo honey has the same antibacterial and antioxidant properties as other quality honeys – the health benefits of honey are well researched.  But to get the benefits, you need to make sure that you are getting honey that has not been treated or heated in any way – basically you want it as good as when it comes from the beehive.  This is because the health-giving compounds are destroyed by heating.

Buying Tupelo Honey

Pure Tupelo flower honey is a very valuable commodity because of the labor-intensive production methods and the small geographical area that prodices it.  Maybe for this reason, some less reputable producers will charge the same high pure-tupelo prices for products that contain honey from other plants.  So, be careful to choose a supplier with a solid reputation.  and remember, if you buy what is described as the real thing and it crystallizes, Houston, we have a problem!