Ever go a little overboard on unique edible items because you wanted to know how they all compared? I feel like that's a pretty good way to "over do it" and splurge on occasion. Spoiling yourself with food is better than others. Long story short- I have entirely more honeys than I can know what to shack a stick at. I also may be experiencing a sugar high.
There is something majestically and instinctively beautiful about nature's golden nectar.
Why are we "all a buzz" for honey? (never sorry about puns)
While honey is essentially fermented sugar from flower nectar processed through the tiny factories of bees, it is also very different from just SUGAR. Standard western refined sugar is primarily a sucrose molecule (made of 2 sugar molecules, as a disaccharide- meaning "two sugar").
Standard "blossom" honey by honeybees (mostly) is from flower nectar plus enzymes from the bees and is fermented in their honeycombs to eventually feed their bee babies- the brood. It really is special, with a recorded 181 chemical components but mostly made of glucose and fructose (31% & 38% respectively with 17% water), which makes it lower on the glycaemic index than regular sugar, meaning it last longer for energy use in our bodies. Honey is thus a good source of calories for exercise- better than plain sugar. It can also reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Honey also has some trace vitamins, minerals (0.2%), enzymes, amino acids (0.3%), and organic components like pollen and floral fragrances.
better than plain sugar
The big processing method of bees from nectar to honey is dehydrating, because nectar is mostly water while honey is supersaturated with a very high sugar concentration (meaning higher solute content via heating, just like dissolving sugar in hot water let's more dissolve), making it thick/viscous. The bees also convert the nectar sugars into the simpler sugar molecules of glucose and fructose via hydrolysis.
So yeah- bees are nature's tiny chemists.
There is another type of honey that is made by forest bees from sugary plant sap, excreted by aphids tapped into the plant's phloem vessels (think tiny version of maple tree taps to make maple syrup, but by insects). This odd-ball honey of the forest bee is called honeydew honey, because it's from the honeydew that aphids excrete (aka, overflows out of their bodies' via the back-side due to high pressure of the plant sap), collected by the bees. You may be familiar with ants eating these "dew drops" and tending to aphid colonies for this harvest. I wonder what that aphid-pee forest honey tastes like...
Nature is cool! Anyway- honeydew honey is made by bees using the stem sap not flower nectar while regular blossom honey is directly from flower nectar.
Most honey we eat is from honeybees, which are a hybrid of several bees we've selected to specifically make us honey, which we pay them for in sugar water so they aren't going hungry.
Some other bees also make honey. Even some wasps (17 species in fact) are known to
make a type of honey. I bet it's harder to harvest.
Honey's natural antimicrobial properties and chemical stability, mean is edible indefinitely. It will likely crystalize after a period especially in cool temperatures, but it's just crunchy honey and can be remelted into liquid form again. Honey is also a very safe antibiotic for wounds, naturally moisturizing and will even kill bacteria that are already resistant to medical antibiotics.
Manuka honey, from New Zealand bees, is the highest in antibiotic properties and used in hospitals to fight MRSA infections.
And it's edible and has no negative interactions with other medications. SCORE! Some are even anti-viral and anti-parasitic.
Fun fact- the darker the honey, the more antioxidants. Pollen content can also affect the color, as can mineral composition. Fennel & meadow sage honeys are nearly black.
Honey has been used by ancient civilizations and tribes all across the globe as a natural high-calorie food, sweetener for other foods, medicine and even spiritual symbol. And of course it was made into alcohol. Naturally gluten free too :)
There are over 300 different types of honeys across the globe, from different regions, bees, or plant nectar sources, as well as raw vs processed types. Processing can remove potential pathogens from raw honey but also the trace vitamins and antioxidants.
Here's the spread I had on my hands:
And like "me", I did indeed have honey EVERYwhere after all this. Mostly my face and nose from really getting close to smell them. I am amazed I didn't wake up the next day to a pile of ants on the table, but did have to wash the table cloth.
There is an official color scale for honeys- the Pfund & Lovibond Scales which the USDA still uses. I just went with descriptors like "amber" and "copper toned".
What does a botanist do when they accumulate too many honeys? Taste test each in a "Honey Party" and take notes, of course! From my new honey collection assessments, I developed this chart to compare them. The average score to rate them was an 8.1, so all in all very enjoyable honeys. Some had very unusual flavor profiles including malt or sweet plastic-y taste (you know that sorta chemical plastic-like taste?). The whipped honeys were of course the thickest often with a grainy texture. But entirely spreadable on a biscuit! Mmm!
Several were distinct just from being from certain plant nectars, like mangrove trees or berry blossoms. Two involved blueberries, one with the flavor added and the other from blueberry flowers, and indeed had different flavors. I wouldn't kick either off my table, but the one from the blueberry blossoms was somewhat floral but not surprisingly not fruity (the fruit comes after the bees visit, aha!). It was a lovely dark color too.
Two whipped honeys were similar as sort of fall themed as either cinnamon alone or the full profile of pumpkin spice. They interestingly had visibly different viscosity. Yes, this was fun!
See if you can spot the different viscosities of the Pumpkin Spice Whipped and Cinnamon Whipped honeys:
I was quite surprised to find the Palmetto nectar honey was very vibrant and fruity, not what I would associate with a palm tree. That and the Fireweed honey locally found at the farmer's market (thanks Ruth!) were both very 'edible', like where you kind of keep eating it just because.
Are any of these new types to you? Any favorite honey types you've found already?
Or worst honey?
While I did not really enjoy the spicy Hot Hani Florida honey, it's just because it was indeed spicy and my tongue starts going numb with more than mild heat. But it was certainly interesting. Now I'm wondering what foodie things I'll splurge on next.
Now I have many options for many many recipes. Being blueberry season, it is certainly tine for blueberry pancakes with some blueberry whipped honey. Mmmmm.... Happy eating!