The Different Types of Honey

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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.

Varieties of Honey You Should Try

Different types of honey in clear jars image.

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.

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.

The honey variety you are familiar will may depend on where you live. This is because many honey types are tied to location due to nectar source. Different plants bloom in the various regions and climates.

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.

Light color honey variety in jar with white flowers.

Honey Classification

In the food industry, honey is actually graded (much like meat) according to several factors including moisture content, color, flavor, etc.

They also vary a bit in content of minerals and vitamins. All honey is acidic in nature. But for the everyday consumer, the two major classifications are single nectar source and multifloral source.

In addition to flavor and aroma, the color of honey is important in some situations. You will often hear it divided into the two categories of light or dark.

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.

This does not mean that one shade of color is better than another. But rather, this tells us something about the nectar source.

Worker bee gathering nectar from flower image.

Single Nectar Source

Millions of flowers are visited to gather the plant nectar needed for bees to make honey. Thousands of workers mix the nectars together back at the hive. This is why most of the honey sold in stores is a mixture.

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: flower fidelity and hive manipulation. 

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Honey bees practice flower fidelity. This means when they find a great food source, bees will collect nectar from that source until it is gone.

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.

Multifloral Honey

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 the nectar of many different plants.

Different Forms of Honey

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.

You may still find some chunk honey with a nice piece of honeycomb in the jar.

Regular, Whipped, or in the Comb – there is a taste experience for everyone.

Different types of light and dark honey nectar sources image.

Unique Types of Honey by Nectar Source

In the market, some varieties are more sought after than others. These types of honey bee products are primarily made from one major nectar source. However, if tested in a lab, most would not be 100% pure.

There are are always a few rouge bees that may go off to another source – if the opportunity is available.

However, if enough of one type of nectar was used – we get something with an expected flavor or color.

Acacia Honey – Produced from the flower of Robinia pseudoacacia (commonly known as the black locust trees or false acacia) in Europe and North America. It is a popular table variety that goes well will many foods. 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 – Buckwheat Honey is made from buckwheat nectar and 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. You can even make your own honey sweetened lemonade.

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-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 menthol 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. Honeydew honey is made from honeydew (a secretion of aphids) 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 or similar citrus sources. It is very popular and produced in parts of Florida and Southern California.

Orange blossom honey 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, Sourwood 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 one of the most popular honey varieties.

With a light amber color and a mild flavor, it sells out every year. The high fructose content causes it to granulate very slowly.

Wildflower Honey for Your Pantry

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.

For the purpose of using honey for coughs, colds and sore throats – all honey varieties work well. They mostly have the same nutritional components.

So, if you want to make some homemade honey cough drops – go for the less expensive wildflower honey. This basic flavor can be used for any purpose and is the most widely available.

Others varieties have a special flavor that makes them good for give special flavor to honey recipes.

For instance, honey made from buckwheat nectar is very robust and most people do not care for the taste right off the spoon.

Because it can be used in so many ways, raw honey is the perfect pantry staple. A perfect partner in baked goods, it can also be used to make homemade marinades and sauces like sweet honey teriyaki.

This natural sweetener can be used as a light glaze for dehydrated fruits such as pineapple. Or incorporated into healthy peanut butter cookies made with honey.

Conclusion

Enjoy as many different kinds of honey as possible. Raw beeswax comb is edible and there are numerous liquid varieties. 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.

When stored properly, honey never goes bad. Stock up and experience all the flavor and variety provided by our bees.