See Also: Honey Color & Flavor; Honey Nutrition & Health; Honey & Honeybees; Honey Intoxication
Ancient Egyptians so revered honey as the food for gods, that in a hieroglyph, one part of the country was described as a Bee Land.
Honey comes from the nectar that bees extract from the fragrant blossoms of plants and trees. Honey, even more than wine, is the essence of terroir (combination of soil and climate), a direct line from plant to bee then to the tongue!
Bees travel up to 3.2 kms (two miles) from their hives in search of nectar and prefer to return to the same type of flower repeatedly for whatever they have been gathering. If an apiary is next to an apple orchard, or orange grove, or buckwheat or lavender field, the apiculturist will end up with buckwheat, lavender, orange, or apple blossom honey.
There are apiarists who feed their bees sugar water and the product tastes accordingly - bland and undistinguished. Buying this type of commercial honey is simply wasting money.
There are many types of honey; some are mild others more assertive, and some bold with deep penetrating flavours. Framers depend on bees for success of their crops since more than 80 percent of the world’s food and bees pollinate fruit crops.
There are as many flavours of single-flower honey as there are types of flowers.
The best honey is a matter of personal preference predicated on cultural background, locality of childhood and evolution of your palate. Some like mild honeys, like clover (light and mild in sweetness); others prefer assertive Italian chestnut honeys, yet others go for subtle French acacia honey. There are those who like the buttery sweetness of New Zealand Pohutukawa honey with a taste akin to vanilla, and those who go to great lengths to obtain southern Black Sea grown Anza honey from hives made of beech trunks.
Wild honey, i.e. not pasteurised, is coarse in texture, but delightfully complex and infinitely more pleasant but difficult to obtain. Commercial honey made from bees fed with sugar syrup tastes just sweet and offers nothing else. Most honey sold in North America is churned to render it transparent and pasteurised. Pasteurisation, however, is a double edged sword; it stabilizes the product but diminishes its taste.
Honey aficionados can buy honey in comb which looks great but presents difficulties in spreading, unless you don’t mind eating waxy and sticky comb, which has pleasant taste but somewhat “unusual” texture.
Well-stocked grocery stores offer a large variety of honey and specialized high-end stores male available imported honey from as far away as Greece, and Florida.
Honey lends itself well for cooking, in not only desserts but also main course like honey-basted roast, chicken, or salmon fillets in white wine and honey. You palate will experience an epiphany if you start experimenting with honey in cooking.
RECIPE: Pasteli (Greek Sesame Seed Candy)
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu