Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Honey & its many flavors

Image by Leopictures from Pixabay

I never knew different honeys could taste so unique until about 10 years ago. Prior to that, I had only tasted a generic supermarket honey. At a roadside stand, I had an opportunity to taste over 20 different honeys and each had a very different flavor. When my husband began beekeeping, it was so interesting to taste the honey from year to year and how they differed. Why was this? Today you will also see unusual honeys such as “hot honey”. What is that? Those are the topics that I will discuss in this Cooking Tip. I have written a prior Tip on how to cook with honey and so will not discuss that in this Tip.

Most store-bought honeys are purposely blended to taste the same so the customer knows what to expect each and every time they buy it. Although sweet, it will not have the flavor nuances of natural honey. The latter can be so complex and varied that honey tasters use a Honey Tasting Wheel to help define the flavors. Here is an example of one.

Image by Jürgen from Pixabay

There are really two ways that honey is flavored – natural and infused. In its natural state, honey’s flavor is totally dependent on the flowers on which the bees feast. Bees will forage up to 2-3 miles from their hive. What is in flower in that area is what will influence the flavor and color of the honey. My husband purposely plants abundant wildflowers that are native to Colorado. In season, you can see and hear the bees as they visit these flowers, eat the nectar and gather the pollen. He, therefore, labels his honey as “wildflower” honey. Even though the bees traveled outside of our property and will have visited other flowers, if it is labeled wildflower, the beekeeper believes that the honey was substantially produced from wildflowers.

Common varietals of natural honey include:

  • Acacia
  • Alfalfa
  • Clover
  • Orange Blossom
  • Wildflower

Other varietals include many more than the following but here are a few,

  • Avocado
  • Blueberry
  • Buckwheat
  • Chestnut
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fireweed
  • Sage
  • Tupelo

Infused honey is a product where additional flavors have been added to the honey by allowing the particular ingredient to sit in the honey, a process called infusion.

Here is a list of just some of the ingredients used for infusing flavor into honey.

  • Chili peppers
  • Citrus
  • Dried fruit
  • Elderflower
  • Herbs
  • Honeysuckle
  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Spices – ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, etc.

Some people will heat the honey, which speeds up the infusion process. Heat is helpful when trying to extract flavors from dense items such as bark and roots. However, most experts say the heat can destroy some of the honey’s beneficial components. If not using heat, the process can take longer, up to a week or two or more but you do preserve all the healthy compounds.

Image by Hans from Pixabay

At times, the name of the honey can be confusing. For example, lavender honey might be made naturally because the bees feast on lavender blooms or it might be made by infusing the honey with lavender. If the label says “infused” or “lavender flavored”, you will know it is the latter. If it just says “lavender honey”, you may not know for sure unless you are buying the honey from someone you can ask.

The FDA has published a guidance document that says “If a food consists of honey and a flavor ingredient, such as natural raspberry flavor”, the name should “accurately describe the food with its characterizing flavor, such as “raspberry-flavored honey”. Also, “the labeling must include the common or usual name of each ingredient …. For a food consisting of honey and natural raspberry flavor, the ingredient statement would show “honey” and “natural flavor,” in descending order of predominance.” You would hope that would be true for honeys you see on shelves, but it is not guaranteed. That does not mean that an infused honey is necessarily bad. It is just that you want to know what you are purchasing.

Do you like honey? Have you tried any of the myriad of different varietals? If not, I encourage you to seek out a farmer’s market, a roadside stand, a local beekeeper or a store that specializes in honey.