Food and Cuisine

Published on September 28th, 2011 | by Guest Contributor

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Honey: A Primer

A Drop of Honey

As September is National Honey Month, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about the loveliness that is honey.  When I first began keeping bees, I was clueless.  I knew only that I enjoyed honey and the beautiful insects that created it.  After reading countless books and spending many hours online doing research, I have become a bit of a honey aficionado.  I’m by no means to the point where I can tell the source of the honey by tasting it (one day maybe?), but I love trying the different honey options on the market and thinking about all the work that went into each one.

Welcome to Honey: A Primer.

First, the Facts

What is honey?  Well, it is the natural creation of our kind friends the honey bees who produce it from the nectar of plants.  For ages beekeepers have collected this honey and stored it to be used as a sweetener.  In fact, honey can be traced back to Ancient Egypt where Egyptians used it to sweeten cakes and as (gasp!) an embalming fluid.

According to the National Honey Board, a beehives consists of  “60,000 or so bees…[that]… may collectively travel as much as 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar to make just a pound of honey!”  Any beekeeper can attest that honeybees are incredibly hard working and busy little insects.  It is quite rare to find a bee in a hive that is just sitting around.  Everyone has a job to do and they each work incessantly to get it done.

Americans consume 1.3 pounds of honey per person per year.  Producing for us takes a lot of bees and lot of time.  Amazing isn’t it?

Honey Varietals

Honey Sources

The look and taste of honey can vary greatly depending on the flowers that bees feed on while collecting pollen.  Most honey is referred to as wildflower honey and basically contains a mixture of many different honey sources; however, single source or monofloral varieties abound.   It turns out there are 300 types of honey in the US alone!

Some common floral sources are:

Alfalfa – A very lightly colored honey that is mild in flavor.  Alfalfa grows in abundance in Utah and many western states.

Clover – A typical honey available across the US.  It can vary in color greatly as they are a variety of clover plants, but will always have a very mild flavor.

Orange Blossom – Sourced from Southern Florida, Texas, Arizona and California; orange blossom honey is actually from several citrus floral sources including grapefruit, limes, and lemons.  It has a distinct aroma and does carry a citrus smell.

Sourwood – A popular option in North Carolina, sourwood honey is produced in the mountains from Southern Pennsylvania to Northern Georgia.  It has a sweet and slightly spicy aroma and flavor.

As a side note, the North Carolina Beekeepers Association is in the process of adopting a honey standard that single origin honey to contain at least 51% nectar from a single source based on a pollen analysis.  This will ensure that the honey you are buying is accurately labeled.

Honey Comes in Different Forms?

Who knew?  It turns out that honey isn’t always just honey.

  1. Liquid Honey – the traditional version that most people think of when talking about honey.  This can be purchased raw (straight from the hive) or pasteurized.  The pasteurization process involves heating the honey and is said to cause it to lose some of the beneficial qualities.
  2. Comb Honey – Just like it sounds, this is honey still in the comb.
  3. Chunk Honey or Cut Comb Honey – Liquid honey with pieces of comb immersed in the jar.
  4. Crystallized Honey – Honey in which the glucose has crystallized.  It is a natural process, safe to eat, and can be returned to liquid honey with the application of light heat.
  5. Creamed Honey – Also called whipped honey, this is basically controlled crystallization.  The honey is crystallized carefully so that at room temperature it is spreadable.  Perfect for toast (and my personal favorite)!
There are also other honey-products that are not technically honey, but created from honey:
  1. Dried Honey – Simply dehydrated honey.
  2. Flavored Honey – Honey with the additional of a flavoring or colorants.
  3. Infused Honey – Honey that has herbs or spices steeped in it.

Honey Uses

Honey is amazingly flexible and has a multitude of uses.  You can eat it (of course), or use it in a variety of recipes.  You can drink it in tea, or in mead (honey wine).  How about a honey mask for problem skin?  Some claim that consuming local honey helps counteract seasonal allergies.

Honey has long been known for its antibacterial properties and is a great addition to a first aid kit.  It can work as a cough suppressant and it’s even being used now to heal wounds.

Did this post inspire you to buy honey?  Try purchasing local!  Use the National Honey Board’s Honey Locator to find a producer near you.

Sources: The National Honey Board, PRNewswire, Wikipedia

Image Sources: Flickr CC: alsjhcThe National Honey Board





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