The Color of Honey – Which is Best?

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Honey bees gather plant nectar from blooming flowers to make honey. Beekeepers harvest the honey and they fill beautiful jars of liquid gold. Yet not every jar of honey looks the same. What does the color of honey tell you? Can you choose the best honey by color alone?

Golden colored honey in a glass jar with dipper image.

What is Honey?

Honey is a sweet substance made from plant nectar. Honey bees make honey from nectar collected from many blooming flowers. A few other insects produce small amounts of honey-like substances.

But, honey bees are called that for a reason. Apis mellifera is their scientific name and it means “honey-bearing“.

Standardized Color of Honey

Many jars of honey are sold to the end consumer each year. Yes, this is the honey that ends up on your morning waffles or is used as a sweetener in your coffee.

However, the bulk of honey usage in the US takes place in the food industry. In order for honey to be fairly sold on the market, there must be some method of standardization.

Several factors including moisture content etc are taken into consideration when grading honey. However, one common standard is color.

various shades of honey in jars - the color of honey what does it mean

Using a Pfund Scale for Honey Colors

Using a device called a Pfund scale, the color of honey is defined in a reading of millimetres. The following chart denotes the official honey colors.

Honey Color Chart

Standard honey color chart image.

This standardized honey color scale is only the beginning. In fact, the many different colors of honey are too numerous to charter or measure on a chart.

All of this is well and good for the honey industry. However, for everyday life most people tend to lump all honey into 2 categories. Light or Dark.

Why are there Different Colors of Honey?

There are several factors that affect the color of honey. The biggest one is simply nectar source.

Foraging worker bees collect plant nectar from thousands of blooming plants. Each plant is unique in the type of nectar it provides.

Nectar from gathered from clover blossoms produces a light colored honey. While buckwheat plant nectar results in a dark robust flavored honey.

The processing of making honey will be completed back in the hive. However, the first step is nectar collection.

This formidable task belongs to the worker honey bees. These hard worker females gather nectar from millions of blossoms.

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Honey Plants for Foraging Bees

Are some type of flowers better for bees than others? Yes. Not every blooming plant is a good nectar producer.

Each type of plant is unique providing nectar with different sugar contents, floral esters, aroma etc.

In most regions of the country, it is common to find many Spring blooming plants that result in light colored honey. The darker producers are most common the season progresses.

There are of course exceptions to any rule. And, you must allow for personal opinion of exactly where the line between light and dark is drawn.

Honey bee foraging on a flower for plant nectar image.

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 honey plant can tint the whole batch.

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

Honey Plants in the Middle Color Range

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

Which Kinds of Honey are Dark?

These nectar bearing plants tend to produce a darker honey when foraged by honey bees. Color ranges from medium amber to almost black.

  • borage
  • sumac
  • buckwheat

Poly Floral Honey

Most of the honey produced in the United States is polyfloral. What is polyfloral honey? It simply means that many different nectar sources were used to produce that jar of honey.

Worker bees collect plant nectar and take it back to the hive. Here is is handed off to house bees. These are the bees that complete the process of converting nectar into honey.

Naturally, as thousands of bees return with nectar – it is mixed up with the nectar loads of numerous others.

This results in a polyfloral honey that is a mixture of hundreds of nectar sources. Most commonly this type of honey is sold as “Wildflower”.

Wildflower honey tends to be a medium Amber color or even darker.

Mono Floral Honey

In certain situations, beekeepers produce a crop of monofloral honey. Monorfloral honey is a product resulting from 1 primary nectar source.

These unique crops of honey are sought after for their reliable taste and color.

Clover Honey is one example of monofloral honey. And, Sourwood Honey is another favorite in my region.

Flower Fidelity in Honey Bees

It is possible to produce a crop of monofloral honey that is a consistent color because of flower fidelity.

Worker honey bees will gather food from any reliable source. However, individual foragers tend to work the same type of flower if the food source is good.

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.

The end result will be a monofloral honey that is predominately made from clover. This clover honey has a predictable taste and color.

In fact, the color of honey is one way that various honey types are identified.

Honey in the comb that has been capped image.

Honeycomb Affects Honey Color Too

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

Inside the beeswax cells, honey is stored for Winter. These cells are also used to store pollen and to raise young baby bees.

When first produced, beeswax is white. Over time, the honeycomb is stained with daily use. 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 honeycomb – the bigger the problem.

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

Honey Changes Color

Regardless of the original hue of your jar of honey, the color may change. Even when honey is stored properly, it may darken with age.

Of course it is perfectly fine to consume it just looses some of its brightness. Heating honey can also cause it to darken.

Is Light Honey or Dark Honey Better for You?

Honestly, there is not much difference in the nutritional value of most types of honey. Some studies suggest that dark honey has more micro-nutrients but perhaps too few to matter.

One thing to be concerned about – always purchase raw honey when you have the opportunity. Raw honey straight from the hive is in its freshest form.

Final Thoughts on the Color of Honey

Embrace the glorious variety of honey colors. Each one is unique and special in its own right.

Don’t be afraid to try new types of honey beyond that grown in your region. This honey gift pack sampler is a great example of what awaits you.

Different color palettes and tastes allows honey to be paired well with various foods such as gourmet cheese etc.

Perhaps, you enjoy the light flavor of Clover Honey or maybe the bold attack of Buckwheat is more your style.

Enjoy. The bees have worked hard to bring you this jar of deliciousness.

Beekeeper Charlotte

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