Tupelo Honey
Tupelo Honey

Tupelo Honey (Nyssa Ogeche)

Tupelo honey is a high grade honey produced in a small region in North Western Florida and Southern Georgia from White Ogeechee Tupelo trees. The honey color is light golden amber with a greenish cast. It has a mild floral and fruity taste. The aroma is cinnamon and floral. Tupelo honey’s high fructose content resists crystallization for years. Because of its light floral aroma and balance it goes well with strong blue cheeses (Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Cabrales cheese etc.) and fruit such as fresh roasted peaches. Some diabetics use Tupelo as a sweetener because of its high fructose (levulose) content.

Since Tupelo trees grow in swampy areas and beekeepers want the hives close to the trees, it is common to place the beehives on platforms to avoid flooding along side of the swamp. Some beekeepers still use boats to access their hives. Tupelo floral content can be as high as 95% although only 51% is required by the state to be labeled, “Tupelo Honey”.

White Tupelo Flowers (Nyssa Ogeche)

Honey is certified in Florida by pollen analysis. Producing single flower Tupelo honey must be carefully managed by beekeepers to avoid dilution with other plants blossoming just before and just after White Tupelo. Several honey plants bloom just before White Tupelo, including Black Tupelo (aka Black Gum – Nyssa sylvatica), Ti-Ti (Cyrilla racemiflora), Willow (Salix carloniniana Michx). They are used to build up bee colony strength and stores. Combs must be cleaned of these honeys in preparation of White Tupelo blossoming. White Tupelo has a short blossoming season from early April to early May, depending on the weather conditions and must be harvested before the Gallberry (Ilex glabra (L.) Gray) starts to bloom. Gallberry also produces a delicious light honey, but unlike Tupelo, it tends to granulate quickly.

The tree, first discovered by William Bartram along the Ogeechee River in Georgia, it is also known as Swamp Gum, Sour Tupelo-Gum, Bee-Tupelo, Tupelo Gum and Ogeechee-Lime Tree. It produces 1.5-inch-long, showy red fruits that ripen in autumn. The juice can be used as a substitute for limes, hence its common name.

The Tupelo Honey Festival in Wewahitchka, Florida, referred to as “Wewa” by locals, is celebrated annually on the 3rd Saturday of May at Lake Alice Park. It is a great place to try and buy fresh Tupelo honey and talk to the beekeepers that have upheld the traditions that have made Tupelo honey famous. The critically acclaimed movie, Ulee’s Gold (1997), features a Wewahitchka Tupelo honey bee keeper, played by Peter Fonda. Of course most people have heard of the song, ‘Tupelo Honey’ composed by Van Morrison (1971).

Latin Name: Nyssa Ogeche W. Bartram ex Marshall, Family Cornaceae – Dogwood family

Honey Origin: The swamps along the Apalachicola River valley in Florida, USA produces the purest Tupelo honey. The Ochlocknee and Choctahatchee Rivers in Georgia also produce Tupelo.

Recognition: Listed in the International Ark of Taste – Tupelo Honey. Foods included in the list are intended to be “culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice”, in addition to being rare.


Further Reading:

Apalachicola’s Gold: Archaeology and History of Tupelo Honey Production in Northwest Florida. By Kelly S. Hockersmith (pdf: 11 MB)

She’s as Sweet as Tupelo Honey – Pure Florida Blog Post – Aug 5, 2010