Everyone is familiar with that sweet substance made by bees. But, did you know that there are actually many different types of honey? A world-wide search will reveal a large variety of colors, tastes and aromas. From light to dark and mild to tangy, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Different Varieties of Honey to Use
Most of the jars you find in the grocery will be called “Wildflower Honey“? This is a general term used to describe a product made from many nectar sources. Chances are you have enjoyed a spoonful of this sweet treat.
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In fact, the normal consumer is often amazed to learn the wide range of flavors available. There are so many unique flavors, textures and aromas.
Availability for many varieties is tied to location. This is because of the different plants in bloom in the respective regions. For instance, Manuka Honey comes from New Zealand and is made from the nectar of the native mānuka bush (leptospermum scoparium). You won’t find those growing in South Carolina.
Once you see the wide taste experience before you, it’s time to consider the best way to use them. Some are mild in flavor and more suitable for table honey-perfect to be enjoyed straight from the jar.
Others have a special flavor that makes them best for honey recipes. For instance, honey made from buckwheat flower nectar is very robust and most people do not care for the taste right off the spoon.
Categories of Honey Classification
In the food industry, honey is actually graded (much like meat) according to several factors including moisture content, color, flavor, etc.
But for the everyday consumer, the two major classifications are single nectar source and multifloral source. And beyond that, you will often hear honey divided into the two categories of light or dark.
Millions of flowers are visited to gather the nectar needed for producing honey. This nectar is normally mixed all together back in the hive.
Bees also collect pollen. Some pollen ends up in jars of raw honey but it is not the raw material bees use for honey production. Honey production requires a lot of nectar and thousands of worker bees.
So, if bees mix all the nectar together, how can we have honey from a primary single nectar source? This is possible due to two factors. First, bees practice flower fidelity. This means when they find a great food source, bees will collect nectar from that source until it is gone.
When hives are placed in an orchard with yummy orange blossoms in bloom, the bees will target that crop until it is gone. Beekeepers make use of this tendency by manipulating the hive boxes.
Putting empty super boxes on the hive at the beginning of the bloom of the target crop enables a single source crop. When the target crop bloom is over (i.e. Sourwood, Clover etc), the honey is harvested.
The vast majority of honey consumed in the United States is multifloral. This is often called Wildflower and may be labeled as such. However, even if the honey label does not say Wildflower- that is the term used to describe it from an industry point of view.
This does not mean that native wildflowers are the nectar source – rather that the honey is produced from many different plants.
In addition to flavor and aroma, the color of honey is important in some situations. Light honey is often a mild flavor and dark honey is known for a stronger taste.
In honey shows (yes – we beekeepers actually do that), the entries are actually separated into dark and light classes.
Different Forms of Honey to Try
In the United States, honey in a liquid form represents the largest number of sales. However, this is not the only way to enjoy it. Regular, Whipped, or in the Comb – there is a taste experience for everyone.
Unique Types of Honey by Nectar Source
If tested in a lab, most would not be 100% pure -there are always a few rouge bees if the opportunity is available. However, enough of one type of nectar was used by the bees to create something with an expected flavor or color.
Acacia Honey – A popular table variety, Acacia honey has high fructose levels. It is a beautiful light color with a delicate taste.
Alfalfa – Alfalfa honey is produced in the US and Canada. Bees gather nectar from the blossoms of alfalfa plants in large fields. It is light in color with a mild sweet flavor.
Aster – This is a light-colored honey that is produced from the nectar of Aster flowers. There are thousands of varieties of Asters worldwide. In the US, they bloom in the Fall and are an important food source. Aster honey tends to be thick and it crystalizes faster than others.
Avocado – My beekeeping friends in California rave about Avocado Honey. Made with nectar from blooming Avocado plants, it does not taste like the fruit. It is dark in color with a rich buttery flavor.
Blueberry – Blueberry Honey Produced in the Northeast regions of the US, blueberry blossoms yield the nectar for this variety. Normally light in color, it has a slight blueberry flavor.
Buckwheat – Honey made from buckwheat nectar is known for its rich flavor. It is rich in antioxidants but the taste is too bold for some honey connoisseurs. The color is very dark similar to molasses. Some beekeepers plant buckwheat to feed their bees.
Basswood – Made from the nectar of Basswood tree blossoms, Basswood honey is light-colored. Unlike most light honeys, it has a strong flavor and woody scent. It is used in cooking, and teas.
Clover – Clover Honey is produced in many parts of the world. It is one of the most popular single source types of honey. It is light gold in color and has a mild sweet flavor. There are many popular uses: baking, sweetener for drinks, right on the table.
Dandelion – Most Dandelion Honey comes from New Zealand. It has a floral aroma and is dark amber in color. The tangly flavor is often enjoyed right from the jar.
Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus Honey was originally sourced from Australia but it is now produced in some areas of California. The color varies a bit depending on location. As you might expect, it has a mild cool aftertaste.
Fireweed – Fireweed Honey is made from the nectar of a tall growing herb in the American Northwest. It is light in flavor and has a smooth taste. I sampled some from Alaska and it reminds me a lot of Sourwood.
Forest Honey-(Pine Tree) Forest Honey is a term used to describe honey that is not made from plant nectar. Wait – I told you earlier that bees make honey from plant nectar! Yes, they do but this is an exception. Forest honey is made from honeydew instead of plant nectar.
Heather – Heather honey has a floral scent and a dark reddish color. It is commonly used in cooking due to the strong flavor.
Linden – Linden honey is made from the nectar of linden tree blooms. Denmark is a major producer for this variety. It is light in color and has a mild sweet flavor with a woody scent.
Manuka – Manuka honey is produced in coastal regions of New Zealand from the flower of the tea tree bush. It has gained popularity for it’s use in the medical industry. It has a strong aftertaste.
Orange Blossom – Made from the sweet-smelling blossom of the orange tree, this honey is very popular. It is light in color and has a mild fruity flavor. When fresh, you will notice an orange-like aroma when you open the jar.
Sage – Sage honey in local to the Southwestern Us. It is a thick in viscosity and very slow to crystallize. The light color and mild flavor are appealing.
Sourwood – A popular variety in the Appalachian mountains region, this honey is produced from the nectar of Sourwood trees. It is not sour but has a buttery aftertaste. The year when my bees produce a sourwood harvest is a wonderful year indeed.
Tupelo – Tupelo honey is produced in the swamps of the Southeastern US. It is a wildly popular amber colored honey with a mild flavor. The high fructose content causes it to granulate very slowly.
Raw Honey for Your Pantry
Enjoy as many different kinds of honey as possible. I enjoy trying some of the ones from Europe from nectar sources not available in the US. Variety packs are a great way to do this. And, don’t forget to consider honey as a gift – it’s a great idea.
Because it can be used in so many ways, raw honey is the perfect pantry staple. It can even be used as a light glaze for dehydrated fruits such as pineapple. When stored properly, honey never goes bad. Stock up and experience all the flavor and variety provided by our bees.