The true Quest of Which honey to eat continues.
From flower to spoon and back? Poor Dandelion. Lucky bees.
I would like to show you a few more possibilities what you can do with honey after it’s extracted from the hive (for info about raw and creamed honey – see my previous post)
Liquid honey or runny honey.
Liquid honey is not very different from some raw honeys, but these honeys are especially sourced from flowers that are naturally very slow crystallisers. This makes them stay liquid for longer. Examples of slow-crystallisers are honeys made from viper’s bugloss and beech honeydew, but also clover honey can be liquid. The trick is to freeze the honey for a while. The freezer delays crystallisation, and honey will still be liquid when it’s back to room temperature.
To be able to label your honey as Liquid honey on a commercial level, a bit more needs to be done. In fact, Liquid honey is the only type of honey that actually gets significantly processed before it is sold in supermarkets.
- Beekeepers have to filter out particles that have a potential for crystal growth;
- they add a bit of moisture;
- and then heat it to dissolve any tiny crystals that were left; and to destroy fermentation factors like yeasts.
In this way the honey stays ‘stable’ and runny for about a year, until it finally gives in to crystallisation, which doesn’t look that appetising.
And then there is comb honey. This doesn’t have to go through the common extraction process and is thus a good option for beekeepers that don’t have an extractor. The basic principle is as follows. Cut pieces off the comb with a cold, sharp kitchen knife, stick ’em in a jar or straight into your mouth! (you can chew on the wax, but I don’t recommend to swallow it)
However, in practice it can often get a bit trickier. You can use specialized honey comb frames and particular tools and techniques to get the comb off the frames as nicely as possible. I won’t go too far into it now, but please do let me know if you’re interested in the details!
This is as much as I will tell you about honey processes for now. Maybe you have felt it already, but the quest isn’t completely completed yet.
To be able to properly answer the question Which Honey in my Tummy? we also want to know where the honey came from in the first place. Did it come from nectar in a field of clovers or from a lush bush?
Which flowers did the bees choose? And how can we recognise the flower source by merely looking at honey in a jar in the supermarket?
In New Zealand it is not required by law to specify a list of ingredients on your honey label, which means that the label doesn’t always inform you about the floral sources of honey (it is required to give a table of nutritional values and an expiry date. I will come back to this later). Often the label won’t say any more than the “title”: Clover honey; thyme, lavender. But what about bush honey? What sort of bush are they talking about? And what is “wildflower” or “blend” honey?
Luckily, there are a few tricks that can help you guessing what flowers you might be dealing with.
Colour is the key. Honey can vary from very light to very dark. Below are a few examples of floral sources (mostly specific to New Zealand).
White: white clover, blackberry, thistles, viper’s bugloss, canola, rata, pohutukawa.
Extra light amber: willow, pip and stone fruit, New Zealand native fuchsia and most yellow-flowering weeds such as hawksbeard.
Light amber: dandelion, buttercup, kamahi, barberry, kowhai, some manuka, kanuka.
Medium to dark amber: some manuka, heather, gums, beech honeydew.
Another thing you could look at (only in the case of raw honeys) is thickness or thixotropy of the honey. How thick the raw honey is, depends on a protein in it (colloidal protein). You can almost compare the texture with a jelly. Examples are kanuka and manuka honeys, as well as honeys from ling heather.
So, if your raw bush honey is very thick, you can make a good guess that there is some manuka in there (and that’s a nice thing to know, since it’s has such excellent antibacterial properties. For more information – see my first blog post!)
Then there is one more type of honey: Honeydew honey. It doesn’t come from flowers at all, but from sap-sucking insects! You can find them on blackberries, sycamores, lime and oak trees.
In New Zealand, the main source of honeydew that bees will collect is from scale insects living inside the bark of native beech trees (Nothofagus spp.) The insects eat tree-sap and then excrete it through a thin tube that sticks out from their bodies. Often you can see a little droplet of honeydew at the end of the tube (try it! it’s yum) and this is exactly what the bees collect.
Finally but rarely, bees can collect the sweet juices from broke, over-ripe fruit, even though sneaky wasps are more fond of this.
A curious thing to keep in mind: which ever type of honeyyou choose, it will have about the same nutritional value and a similar expiry date. Even though all honeys will be edible after as much as 2000 years (!) your jar will always give you an expiry date of about 8 years after the honey is packaged. This is not because the honey expires, but because the container does!
Most information in this blog post and the previous ones come from own experience and observation, as well as the book “Practical Beekeeping in New Zealand” by Andrew Matheson and Murray Reid. Fourth edition 2011, Exisle Publishing Limited, Auckland.