If you are expanding your knowledge of honey, or you’ve heard about a delicious honey, or you are interested in the health benefits of honey, then your next step is to learn enough to judge how to select a honey to buy and try. What types of honey are available? Where do you look to find good honey? Are there different grades of honey? What honeys offer the best health benefits?
In general, for flavor, aroma and health benefits, the best honey is raw honey, this is honey produced with minimal processing and has nothing added or removed. Raw honey created with minimal levels of chemical additives is known as organic honey. To help protect the consumer, many countries have developed honey standards so people can reliably know and trust what they are getting.
Types of Honey:
1/ Basic Types: If you are familiar with wine, then you will quickly pick up the important factors affecting the selection of honey. Just as wine comes in two basic types, white and red, honey comes in two basic types, also from biological origin.
- Blossom or nectar honey: The honey produced mainly of nectar from flowers
- Honeydew, fir or forest honey: The honey produced mainly from the sweet excretions of insects (honeydew)
2/ Varieties of honey: Like wine, honey is differentiated by the source or plant varietal (as well as location). This is the actual source of the nectar or honeydew used by bees to create honey. Just as flowers have different colors, forms and aromas, so does the honey. Honey produced from the nectar of orange blossoms looks, and tastes entirely different from honey produced from the nectar of chestnut tree blossoms or from honey produced from the honeydew from aphids (yes, aphids) on pine trees in Turkey. Depending on the proportions of flowers in the area where bees collect nectar and the timing of the collection of honey from the hives, honey may be either:
- Multifloral honey: Created from the nectar of many types of flowers around the hive, or
- Single flower or monofloral honey: Created mainly from one type of flower or honeydew
This is a surprise to many people because most honey purchased in supermarkets in the United States is made from unidentified blends of honey with a similar taste and appearance between brands. Once you have tried unblended honey from a single flower source or location, you will discover the variety and taste sensations that will amaze and delight. The United States, although relatively new to honey production compared to the rest of the world is the source for many of the finest single flower honeys.
3/ Presentation: The next factors in the types of honey are the presentation of the honey, assuming minimal heating and processing
- Comb Honey: This honey is sold packaged in the beeswax comb. This is freshest and purest form of honey you can get as it has never come into contact with air. Some producers put the comb packaging containers in the hive so that no cutting is required to create smaller size pieces for sale. The comb is edible. Kids and older kids like to eat the honey and wax together and spit out the wax! My favorite way is to eat the comb with cheese and bread or on toast.. the combined textures and flavors go together well.
- Chunk Honey or Cut Comb: This is pieces of comb honey cut up and added to the honey in a jar or container.
- Drained Honey: The honey is obtained by draining the honey comb by gravity.
- Extracted Honey: The honey is obtained by extracting the honey from the comb by centrifuge. This is the most common method.
- Crystallized or Granulated Honey: Eventually the glucose in honey will crystallize. This is a natural effect. Honeys with a greater glucose to fructose proportion and higher water content will crystallize faster. Because of its high fructose ratio, Tupelo honey may resist crystallization for years while canola honey might start crystallizing in the hive! This does not affect the taste or quality of the honey. To reliquefy, simply put the jar in warm water for an hour or two. It will remain liquid even after it has cooled.
4/ Common Processing: Honeys that have been changed through processing.
- Filtered Honey: This is honey that has been filtered in such a way as to remove a significant amount of pollen from the honey. A common method of ultra-fine filtering is to add diatomaceous earth (DE) to the honey. This absorbs fine particles, then it is filtered out through a series of progressively finer filters to remove the DE and any other particles. This produces a very clear honey that appeals to many consumers. It also removes the benefits of pollen but if the honey is not heated as part of the filtering process this is not otherwise harmful. Most honey made by small honey processors or packers will strain, rather than filter the honey to remove larger, non-honey particles, but not remove pollen. Strained or unfiltered honey will crystallize more quickly but is easily reliquefied with no loss of quality by putting the jar into warm water. For most honeys, crystallization is a good sign that it is unprocessed. Use of a microwave to heat is not recommended. Another practical drawback of removing the pollen is that it makes identifying the source of the honey very difficult, the most important factor for identifying the composition of a particular honey and establishing the credibility of the source.
- Creamed honey: Also called “Whipped Honey”, “Candied Honey”, “Churned Honey” or “Honey Fondant.” This is Honey made by controlling the crystallization process to produce very fine crystals resulting in a pleasing, soft honey that spreads easily and doesn’t harden even at cool temperatures. It is a low temperature process which leaves all the healthful benefits, taste and aroma unchanged. This doesn’t mean that all creamed honey is unheated—the process also works with honey that has been heated first then cooled. The first practical process was developed by Dr E.J. Dyce a professor of Apiculture at Ontario Agricultural College—now University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario Canada (my hometown I’m proud to say) in 1928. The process begins with starter crystals made from honey (ideally the same kind of honey) that has crystallized naturally and been ground or pulverized to a fine grain. This mixture is then stirred at a constant temperature. The size of the starter crystals, the moisture content of the honey, the stirring temperature and stirring time are all variables that effect the final product. Creating a smooth, finely textured creamed honey is an art and the result of fine beekeeping skill. Creamed honey is generally preferred by Europeans because of its spreadability and texture.