Honey Tasting: How to Love Honey

HOW TO LOVE HONEY

Honey truly is the food of the gods. It is mentioned in the Bible, the Koran and is an integral ingredient in ancient Ayurvedic medicine. It is used in preparing Indian wedding preparations and ceremonies, and many folk remedies include it.

Each batch of honey will have its own flavour, its own colour and its own unique combination of nectar and pollen. No two batches are alike. In fact, honey harvested from adjacent hives may not look the same. Even honey harvested at different times from the same hive will be different. Honey taken from different honey supers (the boxes in which bees make the honey) may differ from each other; even the frames (the partitions upon which they make the honey comb) may be somewhat dissimilar to each other.

Texture, colour and taste

Honey can be granular, viscous, runny, dark, light, highly aromatic or barely scented. It can contain chunks of beeswax or be finely strained. Rarely is unpasteurized, farm-harvested honey clear and free of all impediments. It should be somewhat opaque, indicating the pollen hasn’t been filtered out (as is often done with imported honeys, particularly from China and India). Even honey labelled “Product of Canada” need only be 20% Canadian honey. Beware of sweet, syrupy honey from large commercial producers—especially those located outside of Canada. Often, corn syrup is added to honey to “stretch” it…and lower the production cost. Take time to visit local farmers’ markets or purchase artisanal honey from a good local grocer. Talk to the honey producer if possible and find out how many hives they have, whether the honey is produced and what the bees feed on. It is the only way to guarantee the honey you buy is pure and natural. Like a great wine, good honey has layers of flavour and aroma…it isn’t simply sweet. Think woody, grassy, fruity, floral or even musty.

Different types of honey can look and taste different from one another because of environmental factors such as temperature, location, how the bees are feeling, and what is around them. Bees exposed to constant noise – such as a nearby railway track — may not gather as much honey, because they are stressed. A cold, wet spring will keep them indoors, and could cause them to miss gathering nectar from apple blossoms.

Here in Ontario, we have clover honey, alfalfa honey, purple loosestrife honey buckwheat honey, apple blossom honey and occasionally blueberry honey. Any time bees have fed off of a single crop, the honey can be given the name of the plants they fed from

Georgia and Florida are famous for Tupelo honey, Maine and Michigan for blueberry honey, New Zealand for its Manuka honey, made from the Tea Tree. This is truly honey that is a reflection of a specific region with a distinct flavour, colour and aroma created out of the terroir – just like French wines.

THE HONEY SEASONS

The bees begin producing honey as soon as blossoms form on trees and plants and the temperature is warm enough for them to leave the hive during the day. One worker bee, during its 35-day lifespan, can produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey, by flying for hours each day between blossoms and taking nectar and honey back to the hive.

The first honey can generally be taken from the hive around mid-or late July, but this depends of whether the weather has been fine enough to allow the bees to fly regularly and collect enough pollen and nectar to make sufficient honey.

How much honey is collected depends not only on what the weather has been like but on location and sometimes even the type of bees. Some are more proficient honey collectors than others; some are more resistant to parasites and disease; others are more docile or more aggressive. Some raise brood better. Some overwinter better.

The first honey the bees make early in spring is also used to feed new brood. Bees make related products known as royal jelly, secreted from their glands, which larvae eat for the first few days after they hatch. The queen starts to lay eggs as soon as the temperature begins to warm up, to replace workers which are weary after a long winter. It is vital that beekeepers leave their bees enough honey to raise brood and feed themselves throughout the year.

Honey-harvesting seasons is generally over by late September or early October, when flowering plants are fading. Rarely, bees will make a mono floral aster honey very late in the season. A full super of honey should be left for the bees, which they will use to feed themselves all winter long. Beekeepers who harvest honey must supplement this store with extra feedings. Some beekeepers do not harvest honey from their hives, or very little, and do not need to feed their bees supplemental sugar and vitamins over the winter.

TASTE TEST

Take a tiny taste of honey and put it on the tip of your tongue. Assess its texture. Move it around in your mouth. Ascertain whether it tastes differently as it passes over the many different taste buds on your tongue.

Now add a nibble of cheeses, or a bite of walnut. A little more honey, and a sip of wine. How does the flavour change? Does the cheese suddenly seem zestier? Does the wine’s bouquet seem fuller? Does the honey open itself up to your tastebuds, offering its unique scents, tastes and textures?

WHITE: Wildflower Honey

Early summer honey tends to come from wildflowers, flowering trees and spring plants – dogwoods, dandelions, apple and other fruit trees, crocuses, peas, etc. It is light in colour and delicate in taste. This is the type of honey that we bottle for our unique RAW/Kosher honey (though sometimes it might be golden, too; the colour doesn’t affect the product’s kosher quality or authenticity). Koshering doesn’t make the honey taste any different but it does mean that a rabbi has inspected our premise and approved our equipment and production method. It means you can trust our honey to be pure and sanitary.

Wildflower honey’s colour, aroma and flavour can change depending on what the bees have fed on and where the bees are located.

Our wildflower honey is white, which is a premium honey, and very delicately flavoured. It doesn’t have an overpoweringly sweet taste and has a very light aroma. It is perfect for people who are just learning to love honey, and it goes with everything – toast, tea, in salad dressings or your favourite recipe as a sugar substitute.

Pairings: Be gentle with wildflower honey. Try it with green grapes, apple slices, walnuts, Brie or maybe a Stilton and a glass or two of chilled white Portuguese Alvarinho wine.

GOLDEN: Purple Loosestrife

Mid-summer honey tends toward a golden colour, as the delicate spring blossoms fade and the stout plants which endure summer’s heat and humidity proliferate. These include grasses such as clover, alfalfa, buckwheat and purple loosestrife. Scent is obvious, but not clearly identifiable as one plant or another, unless the honey is monofloral.

Pairings: Golden honey can stand up for itself. Try it with fresh figs, unsalted pistachios, a Gouda or a Balderson’s cheddar, and a oakey Chardonnay.

AMBER: Buckwheat Infused

This amber-coloured honey contains all of the elements of each of the other honeys. It has the earthy, fermented grass smell of a true buckwheat honey, and some of its colour. But it also incorporates elements of butterscotch and beeswax which are found in a clover honey, some of the delicacy of wildflower honey, as well as the autumn goodness of golden honey.

Because this honey is not a mono floral honey, there could be many different types of pollen and nectar in it, including asters, goldenrod, buckwheat, oxeye daisies, marigolds, squash blossoms and much more.

Pairing: This is a big honey, but not overpowering. Try it with some rusks or Finnish flatbreads, peach slices or Medjool dates, an amber ale or even a lovely half-bottle of Bordeaux.

DARK: Buckwheat Honey

Love it or hate it, deep, dark buckwheat is a muscular honey that loves to be admired. Buckwheat is the big boy of honeys, and it is very, very good for you. A cold, wet summer can mean late flowering of the buckwheat plants. That can result in a poor showing by the bees, who may be beginning to wind down their honey-making operations for the season. Buckwheat honey is coveted by honey aficionados and commands a high price for its exclusivity.
 
Pairings: Buckwheat is big and bold; it can stand up to wild taste pairings. Think bacon and whisky, an oatmeal stout, mulled wine, blue cheese, roast duck and even Christmas cake. Not at the same time though…