Beeswax remains one of the most extraordinary aspects of nature’s architectural masterpieces created by bees. They collect nectar from flowers and combine it with special enzymes to reduce its moisture content. The bees go through the entire routine of nectar processing, protein storage, and cell cap sealing about three times a year in temperate climates. This informative guide aims to explain the science behind how bees produce it. It will also answer why it has such a long shelf-life, what happens if it is not harvested, and other burning questions.
Why Do Bees Make Honey?
There are three main reasons why bees make it. These are:
- Bees make honey by focusing their energy on transforming flower nectar into chemical-packed calories that will sustain them through the winter. In warm climates where food supplies are not reliable, bees store excess portions as a source of energy if they cannot forage. Mostly, this happens when flowers are not blooming or blossoms have been depleted. In cooler climates, bees may not make much and rely on food sources available throughout the year.
- The enzymes help to prevent bacterial growth.
- Bees need water to survive but can’t use rainwater since it’s too diluted with other substances. Instead, they use the water found in the syrup to hydrate themselves.
So, how do bees make it?
What is the science behind how it is made? Bees collect nectar, process it in their stomachs, and store it in wax structures attached to the walls within the beehive. Beeswax produced by bees is used to store sweet liquid and larval food.
Nectar is a sugary liquid that’s secreted by flowers as part of the plant fertilization process. It serves as an incentive for bees, birds, and other pollinators to spread pollen from one flower to another. Flowers use nectar, a scented substance with a sweet taste, to attract bees. Pollination is higher in plants with many flowers and more nectar. Cross-pollination increases the productivity of the plants and provides bees with enough nectar.
Bees reduce the water content in the nectar using various enzymes and increasing its sugar content. Nectar can have a water content of 80% to 90%, but after processing, the water content reduces to 20%. If the sugar concentration is higher, bees will reduce the water content further to around 18%.The bees carry the nectar back to the hive, which is deposited in beeswax and further digested. They add more enzymes to break down the sugars until they attain the desired results. As the bees fan their wings over the open cells, they stimulate evaporation and reduce the nectar’s water content.
Besides, the bees fan their wings to enhance aeration in the beeswax. The constant movement of air evaporates the water out, minimizing the moisture content. It has many different sugars and complex molecules, which prevent certain enzymes from breaking it down over time. The final product contains sugar, water, trace enzymes, and minerals (such as zinc, iron, potassium, and manganese), pollen, proteins (including enzymes and “nitrogen-containing compounds”). Besides, it also contains carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins B6, antioxidants. In its natural state, processed nectar contains 66% fructose sugar content, 23% glucose, and less than 1% sucrose.
The bees need protein to rear their brood. They collect pollen grains from flowers and pack them into triangular pollen baskets on their hind legs. As they fly back to the beehive, they transfer the pollen from these pollen baskets to special comb cells in the hive made for storing the protein-rich sugary syrup. Mostly, brood rearing begins in late winter, a period where natural resources are limited. During this period, a shortage in proteins can have adverse effects on population buildup. The bees, therefore, have to collect enough pollen to sustain the colony throughout the season. However, the collection rate varies depending on the pollen availability of pollen and the colony’s needs. While other bees are gathering nectar, a certain percentage of bees will be collecting pollen.
Bees visit different types of flowers that have nectar to collect. Once the beeswax is full, the bees cap it off with wax to preserve it. The syrup is broken down by special enzymes called invertase and glucose oxidase, preventing it from spoiling or changing its state. The comb has an internal comb wall called a “propolis” or bee glue used to maintain the storage areas and seal comb cells. After harvesting, the beeswax is replaced with a new one to ensure that production does not stop. During winter, when few plants are blooming and bees don’t need to forage, they remain clustered inside their hive – constantly keep moderate hive temperatures by vibrating their wing muscles, thus generating heat. The bees stay clustered together to maintain this kind of internal temperature because they cannot produce enough heat on their own to keep their bodies warm.
If the bees become chilled below about 50°F (10°C), they cannot generate enough heat to stay alive and might eventually die.
The Bee Colony
A typical beehive can hold between 30,000 and 80,000 bees in the winter when they are clustering. The population can increase to as much as 150,000 during spring and early summer before the swarming season.
The sugary syrup is stored in the upper part of the hive inside numerous thin-walled wax cells. Beehives are often described as enclosed structures where the larva is raised. That’s because it can be challenging to harvest the product without destroying most of the empty comb. Once a colony has filled the available beeswax, the bees can turn to other nectar sources and produce more wax.
On most occasions, a bee colony produces more than it needs for its survival. Swarms and new colonies need a lot of food for house-cleaning and building comb before taking on their first nectar gathering mission. However, once they’ve gathered enough food to survive the winter, the bees will begin adding wax to store excess sweet syrup for future use.
A colony can live through many cycles of building a new comb to increase its production before replacing its old beeswax with a new one. At that point, there may be more food in the hive than a single colony can use, so the bees will prepare to swarm and leave behind the hive. Some colonies may produce more than they can store or even eat before spoils at the end of summer, so they again prepare to swarm.
The process of gathering and processing nectar
Bees collect nectar with their proboscis, long tongue-like organs with bristles, and filter the pollen from the nectar. Nectar is water (80-85%) and fructose with smaller glucose, sucrose, maltose. When bees fly from flower to flower, they collect nectar and transport it to the hive for processing. The stomach holds about 75 mg of nectar when full. It takes about 60 flowers’ worth of nectar to fill a bees’ stomach. When they return to their hive, the bees regurgitate the nectar onto worker bees inside the colony, who will carry it back to cells and distribute it among other worker bees for processing.
A bee can hold up to 6,000 stomachs in its lifetime, each with about 50 mg of nectar. When bees digest the nectar, they have a smaller crop and larger stomach. The stomach must be large enough to hold the nectar while it passes through the bee’s system. When bees return to their hive, they regurgitate the nectar onto worker bees, who will carry it back for processing.
Can you keep bees without harvesting from them?
Although it’s possible to keep bees without conducting regular harvests, the movie is not recommended for several reasons. First, the bee colony will outgrow the hive leaving no room to populate. The process will cost you more since you will be required to spend more on buying hives. Second, the bees will consume all the stored food in the hive during winter since the external weather conditions will not be favorable. During summer and spring, the bees may reduce their production and may not process enough food to last the entire winter period. Third, failing to harvest regularly will make the bees overpopulate. Keeping the bees healthy in overcrowded hives can be challenging.
If you do not perform occasional harvests, it is hard for a bee colony to store enough food for the winter. Bees need enough food to survive cold temperatures and poor foraging conditions. So, if you know that next year will be a lousy year for foraging, it is best to harvest early enough so that your bees have enough food throughout the coming months.
The only time the idea of harvesting does not matter is when you are keeping bees in a temporary location like an observation hive or for pollination purposes. In these cases, it is typically more about the bees than practicing commercial bee farming.
Why does Honey not spoil?
When stored properly, honey neither spoils nor needs to be refrigerated. High sugar concentration inhibits the microbial growth that causes food spoilage. It comprises more than 80% of sugars, including glucose, sucrose, fructose, and complex carbohydrates.
Honey has high osmotic pressure and low pH of between 3.5 and 5.5, which creates an unfavorable environment for spoilage-causing organisms. It creates a harsh environment for microorganisms to grow. Water molecules are the building blocks of all living organisms that are made up of water. When water is removed from microorganisms, they are unable to replicate or reproduce. The liquid’s acidity in its natural and processed state makes it difficult for bacteria to grow. Since it is hygroscopic, it absorbs moisture from the air, making less desirable forms of microorganisms unable to thrive and multiply on its surface. It contains high acidity, an exceptionally low water activity of between 0.6-0.7, and few enzymes. These factors protect it from microorganisms, help in preventing spoilage, and make it resistant to change.
So why is there an expiration date on the Honey Bottle?
Honey is a stable food with a long shelf-life and can last for years without spoiling. In the bottle, the sugary liquid is processed and not in its natural state. The expiration date reflects its ability to remain safe for human consumption beyond that time, not its potential to spoil. It means that the expiration date is just a marker that notifies the store owner to add the new and fresher stock. Pasteurization is a process that heats the liquid in its natural state to a temperature that will kill most potentially harmful yeast and fungi.
Alright, we’re calling it: those last two years were a fluke. THIS is the year we finally start eating healthy and losing weight. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.
If you, like us, are ready to start eating healthier, raw & unfiltered local honey can help. Yes, a food that’s mostly sugar can help you lose weight. It’s just a question of when and how you eat it.
When to Eat Honey: Any time You’re Craving Sugar
At this point, the science is in on carbs. While you don’t need to cut them out completely to lose weight, it’s beyond any doubt that the typical American diet is too heavy in carbs. Simple sugars in particular have little nutritional value, while also being dangerous easily to overeat. Instead of filling you up, they tend to feel like you aren’t eating much at all, tempting you to eat more.
An easy example is a sugary soda, tea or coffee. These drinks can easily have dozens of grams of sugar, meaning hundreds of calories – and they’re hardly a meal replacement. Next time you’re craving a sweet drink, try having a spoonful of honey on its own, then having an unsweetened beverage like sparking water or black coffee.
You’ll get your sugar fix without the temptation to load up on more sugar, and you’ll cut out plenty of calories instantly. While a can of soda can have more than 140 calories, and a mocha or frappe can have 250+, a tablespoon of honey only has about 63 calories. For some perspective, a tablespoon is quite a bit of honey – basically a mouthful. That’s probably more than you’ll want to eat all at once – even if it’s your favorite varietal.
How to Eat Honey: A Little at a Time, All the Time
This tip is a bit more complicated metabolically, but it all boils down to a simple weight-loss rule: eat small amounts of honey regularly throughout the day, from the moment you wake up to just before going to sleep. It’s counterintuitive to think that eating sugar could help you lose weight, but to your body, it’s the most natural thing you can do.
Honey is made up of fructose and glucose, two of the most common simple sugars out there, along with sucrose and lactose, though there are plenty more. In small, small doses – much smaller than a sugary soft drink or dessert – they are a perfect source of fuel for the brain and body. In large doses, they can cause a sugar crash, headache, and weight gain.
When you regularly fuel your brain and body with honey, you’re less likely to experience sugar crashes and energy troughs throughout the day. Dr. Ron Fessenden, the Honey Doctor, refers to these as examples of metabolic stress, which can lead to inflammation and a variety of diseases that affect the entire body.
By thinking about your health holistically, and not just trying to lose weight, you can get the result you’re looking for without a crash diet or huge lifestyle change. It’s amazing what taking better care of yourself can do.
If you want to learn more about honey and health, reach out to Dr. Fessenden at email@example.com or purchase one of his books on our site.
Though we only produce honey, Local Hive was founded to help fix an industry-wide problem. We aim to return food to its roots, where authentic, transparently produced foods are the norm, and buying food supports the people who grew it: in our case, beekeepers.
During a recent interview, Local Hive CEO Tony Landretti shared some of his experiences working with local beekeepers to help show what makes Local Hive’s approach so different and so critical.
“Old-school, face-to-face interaction is essential to beekeeping. It’s good for everyone, including the consumer. But over the last 40 years in the food industry, we’ve lost that to processing and manufacturing efficiency. We don’t look at where our food is coming from anymore. You lose a lot when you chase efficiency.
I was negotiating with a beekeeper one time. We talked, shook hands, and left – no contract. These beekeepers want to know who they’re doing business with, and to prove your credibility the old-fashioned way. They want to be able to trust you.”
But local honey isn’t just a matter of who beekeepers do business with. There are ripple effects in the towns where these beekeepers live and work, benefitting everyone around them:
“During the summer, beekeepers put their beehives out, often near small towns, and bring in workers to manage them. Suddenly, there’s a local economy in these towns with 300-something people. They’re going to 4H and grocery stores, buying cattle from auctions, you just don’t see that anymore. Historically, beekeepers would barter jugs of honey with cattle ranchers trading sides of beef. You can’t see that by looking at a bottle on the shelf, but that’s the kind of impact local honey makes.”
(Learn more about local honey’s impact at our American Beekeepers page.)
There are tangible differences with local honey, like flavor and color, but it also has a deeper significance: it shows us how we can work together with each other, with our land and with our pollinators. So, while we’re just one honey company, we recognize the power that honey has to connect us for the greater good. As Tony put it: “Right now, we all need that connection.”
In the late 2000s, you couldn’t throw a honey dipper without hitting someone proclaiming, “Save the bees!” This was during the height of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), when beekeepers would lose as many as 60% of their hives every winter. Millions and millions of worker bees would inexplicably call it quits, leaving their queen and her hive without enough food to survive the winter.
This put a tremendous strain on American beekeepers, but it also sent shockwaves through the worlds of agriculture and environmentalism. Suddenly, it became clear that we were at a real risk of losing honey bees for good. So, why were people so worried?
“Honey bees are kind of the canary in the coal mine.” – Julia McGuire, vice president of Iowa Farmers Union
Honey bees need floral diversity, nectar, pollen and water to survive, which means they do best in places where there are a variety of easily accessible plants growing. If they’re struggling to survive for even a single year, it’s a good sign that the soil, water, air and plant life are out of whack. Weak, nutrient-depleted soils require more pesticides to grow crops in, and they’re more susceptible to wildfires, droughts and floods. Nearly two decades ago, bees were warning us that our farmlands weren’t fit to live in – even for an insect.
Three out of four crops across the globe producing fruits or seeds for human use as food depend, at least in part, on pollinators. – Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.
There are many different ways to talk about the foods that bees produce, and they often get overblown. No, we would not be doomed to starvation if bees went extinct. But for us to provide a healthy diet for everyone on the planet, pollinators, especially honey bees, are essential. The dollar value of crops that rely on pollinators every year is in the hundreds of billions, and were they to disappear, farms and local economies would dwindle all around the world, especially in developing countries.
If you want the raw facts, head over to Wikipedia’s list of crop plants pollinated by bees. Then, click the “Pollinator impact” header. This shows you the crops that would all but disappear without honey bees: kiwi, watermelon, squash, and macadamia nut, to name a few.
But that’s just scratching the surface: bees are an “essential element in the production of meat and other animal products” according to the UK-based Api:Cultural. Bees pollinate the plants that become feed for cattle, sheep, poultry, pigs, and even commercially raised fish. So while bees don’t directly feed animals – except for the occasional bear – they are an important part of how we raise animals for human consumption.
So, exactly how much do we need bees?
It’s hard to say. But it’s even harder to imagine life without them. You can support bees and other pollinators by purchasing local honey made by American beekeepers, planting a pollinator garden, or donating to PACE: Pollinator Awareness through Conservation and Education, which conducts leading research on pollinators.
Nearly everyone eats honey: honey desserts, sopapillas honey flavored cereal, honey butter chicken biscuits, honey in little disposable packets – but almost no one thinks about how it’s made or where it’s from.
Local Hive Honey is here to fix that. Not just by offering more kinds of honey, but by changing how we think about food – all of it, not just the sweet stuff. Because, while bottling nearly two dozen honeys seems like a new idea, it’s actually a return to the old ways.
Every honey starts with a beekeeper and some bees.
While making honey is a form of agriculture, beekeepers are more like winemakers than corn farmers. They would never call their honey a commodity, because every harvest is unique. The soil, weather and climate all change the flavor in ways that anyone can notice – just like a bottle of wine.
For decades, mass-market honey companies have been filtering and homogenizing honey, ruining its natural flavors in the name of consistency and efficiency. The beekeeper has become an afterthought.
We think they deserve better, so we deal with beekeepers directly, one on one. They know what we stand for: exclusively buying U.S. honey and protecting its integrity with zero filtering or mistreatment. By putting in the extra effort to bottle pure, raw & unfiltered local honey, we’re giving beekeepers the ability to produce when and where they think is best: for their bees, their honey and their community.
Because honey doesn’t just help beekeepers.
As cities grow, more of our country becomes concrete, and beekeepers have to travel farther and farther out to find places to let their hives forage. In many cases, they settle near small, rural towns. They pollinate local crops. They bring in workers to help harvest and spend all summer there. One beekeeping crew in a 300-person town, going to grocery stores, contributing to the local 4H, buying cattle from auctions, can be huge economic boost.
This sounds like a small example – but it’s happening in every part of the country. Small, local economies are still a way of life for millions of Americans. And no matter how much we modernize and industrialize, there’s no replacing the people and places that make agriculture work.
“I was negotiating with a beekeeper one time. One handshake and we parted ways. No contract. He expected me to prove myself the old-fashioned way: by honoring my word.” – Local Hive CEO Tony Landretti
Over the last 40-odd years, we’ve lost trust in our food. By preserving the old school relationships with beekeepers, farmers and ranchers in every part of the food system, we can build back that trust. After all, it’s hard work to raise organic crops or grass-fed cattle or varietal honey, so those beekeepers and farmers have to trust that their effort will be worth it, that customers who appreciate quality food will seek it out.
As long as there are different communities, there will be different honeys.
Anyone can appreciate local honey’s flavor and color, but once you know how it’s made, you realize that it represents a community. Because here’s the thing: local honey could disappear any time. You simply can’t make it unless people trust each other. Farmers must rely on beekeepers, beekeepers rely on bottlers, retailers rely on customers, and customers rely on honey companies.
Right now, we could all use more of that connection. In a world that’s increasingly divided, labeled, organized and streamlined, we need to carve out and protect the old-fashioned things that have always brought us together, like trust – and local honey.
You might expect this blog to boil down to just a big “yes”, because honey is a nutrient-dense food that people have been eating – and treating maladies with – for millennia. But we’re not ones to settle for a “good enough” explanation. Because raw & unfiltered local honey can be a healthy part of any diet – for adults and children older than 1 – but the way it benefits your body is too interesting just to leave at “Honey is good for you. End of story.”
It all starts with your brain.
Dr. Ron Fessenden’s book Feed Your Brain First makes the case that the way most people think about food is all wrong. While, yes, many of us have some vague goal to eat healthy, cut carbs, or count calories, we rarely think of the effect food has on our body – except possibly our weight, if even that.
But our food affects us in countless ways. Probably the most underappreciated is how it fuels our brain.
In Dr. Fessenden’ view, the foods we eat and when we eat them directly affect our brain through liver glycogen, the brain’s primary energy source. When we eat, our bodies create glycogen. When we skip meals, fast or eat foods with no nutritional value, our bodies run out of it. And if it’s ever starved for fuel, the brain will take action to ensure survival, triggering any number of hormones and signals which can cause metabolic stress on the body.
So, where does honey come in?
Raw & unfiltered local honey is one of the best possible sources of energy for your brain. With its mixture of fructose and glucose, your body is able to quickly and easily process it into liver glycogen, getting your brain back into its normal, non-starved state ASAP. Taken a bit at a time, honey is perfect to add to recipes, drinks and snacks to keep you in good metabolic shape throughout the day.
As you probably (hopefully) know, you can’t just eat a salad and drop ten pounds the next day. An apple a daykeeps the doctor away, after all. You only see the benefit you ultimately want from health foods – whether that’s weight loss, reducing inflammation, stabilizing blood sugar, etc. – after making sure your brain is fed, day after day, and preventing metabolic stress.
Think of “metabolic stress” as a catch-all term for a number of different body processes, not as a medical diagnosis. It contributes to all kinds of conditions, including many of the same ones that healthy eaters are trying to avoid:
– Weight gain
– Insulin resistance
– High blood pressure
– Chronic inflammatory diseases
All these chronic problems can be slow to develop and often strike after prevention is out of the question. This is exactly why raw honey is great for wellness: not because it’s a cure-all, but because it’s convenient, never spoils and great tasting – that sure doesn’t hurt.
Raw & unfiltered local honey is a superfood in every sense of the word: super unique, super useful and super good for you. In our decades of bottling rare and unique local honeys from around the country, we’ve come across more than our fair share of ways to eat it, drink it and use it in recipes, cocktails, breakfast, lunch, dinner – you name it.
But our favorite way to eat honey is still just straight-up savoring a spoonful of it a few times a day. By eating a spoonful at a time, with or without other foods, you give your body a chance to digest it properly and make full use of its many wellness-uplifting benefits. To explain why, we’ll turn to some evidence from The Honey Doctor, Dr. Ron Fessenden.
The Basics: Honey as a Health Food
According to Dr Fessenden’s book “The New Honey Revolution,” over 180 substances have been identified in honey, each with various health effects, including:
– 5 enzymes
– 6 vitamins
– 8 lipids
– 12 minerals
– 17 elements
– 18 acids
– 18 amino acids (proteins)
– 18 bioflavonoids
– 26 aroma compounds
These 180 compounds are only present in tiny amounts, but have a significant effect on how your body processes the compounds that make up the majority of the honey: fructose and glucose, AKA fruit sugar and blood sugar.
Because of these compounds (and the relatively small proportion of fructose) in honey, it doesn’t cause blood sugar and insulin spikes the way other sugars do. In fact, when taken in small amounts over a long period of time, honey can help your body regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.
The First Key Time to Have Honey: Early in the Morning
Early in the morning after you wake up, your brain is depleted. It’s spent the night running at full power while you sleep. To prevent grogginess, stress and hunger pangs, it’s important to eat something early in the day. The old adage about breakfast being the most important meal of the day isn’t necessarily true, but a healthy start absolutely has benefits for your body.
The Second Key Time to Have Honey: Before Exercise
Honey is both rapidly processed by the body and contains the exact kind of fuel your muscles need as fuel during exercise. Take a spoonful before exercise to make sure you don’t crash, and if you’re working out for more than around an hour, have more honey during exercise. This effectively lets your brain know, “We’re okay to keep going. We’re not dying here” and prevents you feeling tired before your muscles get tired.
The Third Key Time to Have Honey: During Meals
Eating small amounts of honey throughout the day, for a long period of time, helps to regulate blood sugar. The current diet trend has many Americans trying to cut carbs in all forms from their diets. (That’s using “current” loosely, as carb-cutting diets like Atkins and South Beach have been in vogue for half a century.) But, while honey is primarily sugar, eating it in small doses (1–2 tbsp at most) does not cause a blood sugar crash the way that other simple sugars do – especially high fructose corn syrup.
You can save your body a great deal of metabolic stress by swapping our table sugar (sucrose) and other simple sugars when possible. Check out our “Sweet Swap” blog on the subject for more details.
The Fourth Key Time to Have Honey: Before Bed
Eating honey before bed can help you sleep soundly through the night. “BUT WAIT,” you say, “Are you really trying to tell me that honey is supposed to be a preworkout pick-me-up AND a sleep aid?”
Yes! Honey really is that effective, all because of its unique combination of fructose, glucose and other . It’s a food that is practically designed to benefit the body – except it wasn’t designed. It was made entirely by bees, truly a marvel of nature.
The reason honey helps you sleep is that sleep is actually a high-energy state for the brain. During sleep, the brain requires as much, or even more, energy than during the day. By energizing your brain before bed, you allow it to get to work on recovery, memory consolidation, immune system restoration and learning. If your body is short on energy to power your brain, it may begin producing cortisol and adrenaline: stress hormones meant to wake you up and get you to eat more. These are the last things you want pumping through your veins when you’re trying to get some shut-eye.
If you want see a full explanation of honey’s health benefits, packed with citations from academic studies, check out Dr. Fessenden’s book, “The New Honey Revolution.”
It’s been a busy year, so we’re all still catching up on our gift giving. Fortunately, raw & unfiltered honey can be the perfect, thoughtful gift for most anyone on your list. Here are the 6 types of people that could definitely use some sweet local honey this holiday season.
There’s bound to be someone on your list who’s starting their New Year’s resolution a little early – or maybe they actual kept up with last year’s. Honey can help them hit the gym and get more out of their workout. Since honey is made of simple sugars – fructose and glucose – it’s the perfect source of quick energy. A few carbs before a workout, during a long run, or after can help your body recover quickly. For the honey-loving athlete who’s always on their feet, we recommend our honey packets, which make it easy to bring a squeeze of honey on the go.
Food blogger, home chef, cheese geek or wine mom, there’s a local, raw & unfiltered honey for them. If they’re into food, there’s a good chance they’ll have the palate to appreciate the subtle floral notes in local honey. Since bees use whatever pollen and nectar they can find nearby, every batch of honey they make tastes a little different. In our coastal varietals like So Cal, you can taste hints of citrus, while northern varietals like New England, you can taste a bit of berry pollen. Gift local honey and your foodie friend can easily create sweet, multilayered charcuterie boards or thoughtful pairings with local wines and fruits.
People from Florida are so obsessed with honey, we made a varietal just for them. Okay, we’ll admit, we’re pulling your leg. We bottle 21 unique, local varietals from the Sunshine State clear through to Seattle. No matter where your giftee’s from, you can give them local honey from right down the road or an exotic taste from across the states.
The Stress Baker
There’s something calming about slowly, methodically producing a loaf of bread or batch of cookies – and there’s a good chance someone close to you took up baking this year. Help them on their culinary journey with local honey, which makes a healthier sugar replacement. Try our Clover honey for a simple, all-around-good sweetness or our Great Lakes varietal for a light, bright sweetness that easily complements baked goods.
The Coffee Nut
Bags of coffee make a nice gift, but half the time, they just end up sitting in the freezer until the bean supply is running dry. Local honey is an easy way to mix up your coffee-lovers’ usual gift. Each raw & unfiltered varietal has a distinct flavor, so they can customize their coffee to dial in the perfect cup. Not to mention, honey doesn’t cause the same sugar crash that table sugar does, making it perfect sweetener to wake up with. Try gifting our Texas or Oregon varietals, each with a distinct sweetness that can balance coffee’s bitter flavors.
We all have someone on our gift list who’s all organic, all the time. Whether it’s the cotton in their clothes or the scents in their shampoo, they’re looking for a clean label, which can make it harder to find a special surprise gift. Raw & unfiltered local honey might be right up their alley. It’s always pure, USDA Grade A honey, bottled just the way the bees made it. And it’s made by local beekeepers who provide the best possible care for their bees all year long, whether they’re up in the chilly Midwest or the swampy Southeast.
Honey happens when thousands of bees commune with millions of flowers. Each of those flowers plays a role in the honey’s color, taste and mineral content, making for a unique, local taste – known as terroir – in every bottle. But those millions of flowers aren’t just sitting out on a buffet, waiting to be a bee’s breakfast.
In his book American Terroir, Rowan Jacobsen illustrates how hard a hive works for its yearly honey harvest:
“A honey bee will fly about three miles on a recon mission, and a hive will take advantage of whatever floral resources it can find, so most honey is sourced from a mixture of flowers…A hive might make a light spring honey from apple trees and acacia, then a dark fall honey dominated by goldenrod and knotweed. Numerous other flowers will contribute minor notes.”
Even if you’re not a plant person, you’re probably aware that plants don’t all bloom at once. Look around your neighborhood a few times a year. Wildflowers have a way of showing up for a few weeks, then shipping out, giving your surroundings a temporary refresh.
That’s because plants only bloom when conditions are right: sun, soil and so on. This timing varies hugely from plant to plant and region to region, so bees may be snacking on magnolia early in spring but move on to lavender when summer rolls around. (And they’ll find plenty of clover all year long, which blooms across the country for months at a time.)
So, because bees are constantly stockpiling different nectars and pollens, it’s only natural that honey would change throughout the year. But it’s on beekeepers to decide when to actually harvest it. If heavy rains are followed by a bumper crop of a bee-favorite plant like tupelo, a beekeeper may choose to harvest early and isolate that unique flavor. Or, they may move their hives a few miles down the road, mixing in a variety of other local flora for a better tasting final product. All the while, they have to tend to the health of the hive, ensuring that there’s plenty of honey – and a variety of pollen sources – to get by on.
No matter the season, making local honey can be quite a handful. That’s why we celebrate the hardworking American beekeepers who make it possible – and why we protect its local flavors by always bottling it raw & unfiltered.
To most, honey is just another sweetener, like sugar or stevia. But there’s more to honey than just sweetness. If you’ve only ever had plain old honey – probably in a bear bottle, not particularly light or dark, no memorable flavors – you’re missing out. Local honeys each have their own unique flavor that’s can add richness to your recipes or morning coffee.
To really appreciate a bottle of local honey, you’ll want to start before you even open it. Labels vary considerably, but look closely and you’ll learn plenty. Here are a few common terms you’ll see:
Clover is the most common source of pollen in the US, growing in one form or another virtually everywhere east of the Appalachian range. Bees love it. It makes for a mild, neutral sweetness, and complements other pollen sources well. Clover honey can still vary somewhat by region, so make sure to check where your honey is from as well.
This means the bees got nectar from a variety of wildflowers, as opposed to a single source, like the crops on a large farm. This is common catch-all term, and these honeys can vary substantially by region and country of origin. These honeys are likely to have more nuanced flavors than clover honey.
Other Flowers or Fruits
A label may also mention floral sources. This is where things really get interesting. Bees make honey from almost anything that blooms, and every source of nectar and pollen imparts a different flavor. It’s relatively rare to find honey that’s monofloral – containing only one kind of pollen. You’re more likely to see blends of a few floral sources. This is because bees head out and look for whatever’s near their hive. Unless their hive is in the middle of a giant farm – which it may very well be – any honey that bees make is more likely to have a mix.
Country of Origin
Where honey is from tells you more about its taste and quality than anything else. Honey can range from a single-origin bottle from a local beekeeper all the way to a blend from different countries. In some cases, honey may be ultra-filtered to obscure its origin, so having no country of origin is usually a bad sign. Look for language like “Product of ____” or “Made in ____.”
Bees keep their hives pretty warm, usually well over 90 degrees, but heating honey much more than that can damage the sugars inside and mute its natural flavors. Raw honey means it hasn’t been heated or pasteurized, which is unnecessary as honey is naturally anti-bacterial.
This means the honey hasn’t been through a strainer to remove anything that’s not honey. A little filtering is okay, but if your honey is completely clear, with no cloudiness or murkiness, it’s probably been ultra-filtered, which removes much of the flavor. (If you want the full story on filtering, check out this article from Vaughn Bryant, the preeminent pollen analysis expert.)
Local honeys are all worth exploring. Like wine, they have terroir: a unique character that comes from the soil, plants and environment. They’re true honeys that reflect the place and respect the beekeepers they come from. Next time you’re shopping for honey, take a closer look at the bottle. You might just learn something.