The allure of honey is undeniable. Even if you do not have a sweet tooth, there is a variety of honey out there for you. In the United States alone there are over 300 varieties of honey that range in color from as dark as molasses to as yellow as the flower of the golden rod. The drastic differences in color also bring distinct and polar flavors.
Honey bees make honey for their own consumption. A strong hive can make an excess of 100 pounds of honey, to be used as their winter store. Honeybees survive the winters by creating a spherical cluster with the center being the warmest and the outer edges at around 43° F. The cluster moves together throughout the hive eating their stored honey until the weather is warm enough for the hive to begin collecting nectar and pollen.
The consumption of honey by humans has been documented back to 7000BC by a Mesolithic cave drawing found in Spain. The image depicts a woman climbing a tree to reach a wild beehive. The most impressive wild honey gathering can be found in West-Central Nepal but the Gurung Tribesmen. The open air nesting of the Himalayan honey bee, which is twice the size of our common European honey bee, hang on the sides of cliffs only accessible by hand made rope ladders and hanging baskets.
The earliest documentation of beekeeping can be found in Egyptian Hieroglyphics dating back to 2400 BC. It was not until a 2007 archeological discovery in Israel that we have been able to actually see the impact of beekeeping in history. A total of 30 intact hives were discovered from the 9th and 10th centuries BC right in the center of a city with an estimated population of 2,000. The hives were clay pots with lids to access the back of the hives and small entrances for the bees.
Today, a majority of local beekeepers keep their bees in a Langstroth Hive, a series of boxes with removable frames, that allow for beekeepers to have easy access to the hive and the honey inside. Honey has several classifications. Monofloral honeys consist of pollen and nectar from one majority plant species. Examples in North America are clover, orange blossom, buckwheat and blueberry. Bees will travel up to 3 miles to collect nectar and pollen, so monofloral honeys are predominantly from agricultural areas and honey is removed following the bloom of a single species of plant. Polyfloral honeys are a mixture of plant species and what is commonly known as wildflower honey. The third classification of honey is called Honeydew Honey. Instead of taking nectar, bees take the sweet secretion of aphids known as honeydew. The most well-known honeydew honey is Germany’s Black Forest honey.
Once honey is packaged, you will find a variety of labels. Ranging from Raw Honey to Chunk Honey, it is all about preference!
Raw honey is honey that is found in the beehive. Simply extracted from the hive by placing honey filled frames into a centrifuge, the honey is then bottled and may contain pieces of wax and pollen.
Strained honey has been passed through mesh to remove any pieces such as wax but allows for the pollen to strain. Where as filtered honey removes pollen as well.
Comb honey is honey still in the honeybees’ wax comb.
Honey will naturally crystalize after some time. Honey never spoils and hardening can easily be reversed by heating the honey and returning it to liquid form.
Organic Honey Labeling
Honey that claims to be organic must be tested to guarantee that it does not contain residues of pesticides or pollutants. The USDA follows the following EU standards for labeling:
-The few surrounding miles (where the bees can fly) must be certified as organic and not contain any pesticides or chemicals
-What is used inside the hive must not contain any synthetic chemicals that are prohibited by the EU.