The Color of Honey

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Jars of honey ranging in color from golden, to white or almost black – what does the color of honey tell you? This product – the work of thousands of bees gathering plant nectar is quite remarkable. And, it is the beekeepers who tend the hives that get to experience the true range of the colors of honey – season by season.

Two jars of honey in amber color image.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this gift from bees is the many diverse types of honey you can find. They vary in texture, flavor and yes color too.

The Real Color of Honey

Perhaps you are familiar with seeing grocery shelves lined with rows of light colored honey jars. But, a visit to a local produce stand reveals a different view. Those containers for sale show many different shades of honey.

Why is there such a wide variety of color shades for this popular food? Can you tell real honey by color alone? No, sadly you can not.

Light and dark colored honey in small jars.

Standardized Color for Food Industry

Honey consumption in the US is about 1.5 pounds per capita per year. This includes the spoonful you put on your morning waffles or add in your coffee everyday.

However, the bulk of usage in the US takes place in the food industry. It is a prime ingredient in baking, ask anyone who has made a Honey Bee Cake full of flavor and moisture.

To make this product suitable for the commercial market, there must be some method of standardization. Grading involves several factors including moisture content, and of course color.

Honey Color Chart

A device called a Pfund scale gives color readings in millimeters. The following chart denotes the official standard.

This is useful in the food industry as honey is bought or sold. But, it is also used in honey judging competitions.

Standard honey color chart gives ranges of light to dark honey color.

This standardized honey color scale is only the beginning. In fact, the many different colors are too numerous to measure on a chart. However, for everyday life most people tend to lump all honey into 2 categories. Light or Dark.

There are of course exceptions to any rule. Personal opinion of exactly where the line between light and dark is drawn do apply.

Why are there Different Colors of Honey?

Honey bees produce honey from plant nectar – primarily. The nectar from different plants varies greatly in sugar content, available minerals and other compounds.

There are several factors that affect the final color of ripe honey. The biggest one is simply nectar source. Each plant is unique in the type of nectar it provides.

A honey analysis will reveal different sugar contents, floral esters, aroma etc from each source-and these in turn play a role in the color honey produced.

And then, we have those odd situations where a beekeeper might find a few frames of purple honey in the hive. What is that about it? The bees know and they are not telling.

Seasonal Variations

It is common to find many Spring blooming plants that result in light colored honey. This tends to have a milder flavor – though there are variations even among these.

The darker producers are most common the season progresses. This is due in part to the nectar mid and late season plants provide.

Nectar Plants for Light Honey

Some flowers consistently produce nectar that results in light colored honey. But remember, a small amount of nectar from a dark plant can tint the whole batch.

  • privet
  • mesquite
  • honeysuckle
  • fireweed
  • clover
  • blackberry
  • sourwood
  • and many more

Nectar Sources for Middle Color Range

  • cherry
  • gallberry
  • holly
  • sunflower
  • apple
  • tulip poplar

Nectar Sources for Dark

These nectar bearing plants tend to produce a darker color range : medium amber to almost black.

Predictable Colors in Variety Honey

Most of the honey you find is called “wildflower” which is actually a mix of many nectar sources. But, it is possible to produce a crop of monofloral honey that is a consistent color because of bee behavior.

Perhaps a field of clover is currently providing the best nectar. In this case, the majority of foragers will gather clover nectar until the resource is depleted. This gives us a type of honey from one primary nectar source with a predictable taste and color.

These products are in demand and they are more difficult for the beekeeper to produce. Expect to pay a higher price for specialty honey.

Various color shade of bee honey in glass jars.

Beekeeper Tip

Another thing that affects the color of the harvest is the wax in which it is stored. Beeswax is made by honey bees and used to construct sheets of honeycomb.

When first produced, beeswax is white. Daily use stains the surface over time. Propolis, pollen, etc contribute to darken the comb.

When honey is stored in older wax, it can become darker too. Some of the materials absorbed into the comb are water soluble.

These substances leach out into the honey and cause it to become darker. The darker and older the comb – the bigger the problem.

Because of this, beekeepers should rotate out old comb from the hive every 4-5 years. Keeping fresh wax in the hive ensures the production of honey that is true to color.


What are the 7 colors of honey?

Using the grading scale from the US Department of Agriculture – the color of honey is categorized int0 7 color groups: water white, extra white, white, extra light, amber, light amber and dark amber.

Is dark honey better for you than light honey?

Honestly, there is not much difference in the nutritional value of most types of honey – light of dark.

Does honey change color?

Yes, honey does tend to darken over time. By storing honey properly, you can protect it from some of the affects of aging.

Why would honey look black in color?

There are several reasons honey may look almost black: the type of nectar collected by the bees, the age of the honey, or the possibilities of impurities or additives.

In Closing

Embrace the glorious variety of colors and flavors or raw honey. Each one is unique and special in its own right. Which is the best honey in the world? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some people want a mild flavor such as clover while others prefer a bold honey flavor.

Different color palettes and tastes allows honey to be paired well with various foods such as fruit, gourmet cheese etc. In fact, various types of honey make great gifts.

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