Any wine collector would tell you that wines vary in taste depending on what variety of grape is used and where those grapes were grown.
The same thing can be said for honey. Not all honey is the same.
If you only buy standard supermarket honey you would not know that. Those honeys are processed to taste the same. However there are really hundreds of distinct honey varietals.
How a Honey is Classified as a Varietal
To be considered a varietal honey, the bees that make that honey must get their nectar from a single source. When honey is made from a single floral source, that honey takes on it's own unique characteristics.
Right off the bat, if you compare different varietal honeys you will see that the color can vary from really light to quite dark. Some honeys take on some of the characteristics of the plant it collects from. Orange blossom honey does have a citrus like taste. While other honeys like avocado blossom, taste nothing like an avocado. Keep in mind that a big part of how we taste things is through our nose. Honey can pick up the smell of the flowers - there is no better example of that than lavender honey.
Also be aware of smells. If a honey has a strong smell of a flavor like citrus than it very well may contain added flavoring. Or if it smells like stinky tennis shoes, well than it might just be Buckwheat or Chestnut honey. Anyway, always read the labels.
How Do Beekeepers Control What the Bees Pollinate?
So how do beekeepers control what type of plants bees are going to? Well fortunately bees help in this process a lot. They prefer to get all their nectar from a single source as long as that source is available. The bees are smart. They won't work harder than they have to. If they got a good source, they will go to it until it's exhausted.
Beekeepers will move their bees around to be near whatever is blooming. I have heard of one company in Michigan, that takes their honey down south in the winter, to make honey in Florida!
Honey Varietal List
Here is a list of the honey varietals that I have personally tried before. There are so many out there that I am probably going to spend the rest of my life trying them. And that is exciting.
Clover Honey - This is the honey flavor you are probably most used to. It's the most common. Most of the clover honey in the grocery store is so processed it has no distinctive flavor. A good clover honey will have a light flavor that is a little more than just sweet.
Wildflower Honey - This is a general description for any honey that comes from a mix of the wildflowers growing wherever the bees are. It varies a lot from region to region and season to season. Wildflower honey gathered early in the year (spring) tends to be lighter in color and flavor than honey made in the fall, which tends to be dark in color and stronger in flavor. Read about the difference between Clover and Wildflower honey
Highland Honey - There are many different types of wildflower honey that come packaged with region names. My favorite is the Organic Highland honey from Bloom Honey. This honey has an unique pineapple like flavor. This honey is a must have! The bees collect their nectar in the high plains of Mexico.
You can order Highland Honey on the Bloom website and get 10% off if sign up for their newsletter first.
Orange Blossom - A light colored honey, with a subtle citrus-like taste. Orange Blossom honey is a kid favorite in our house.
Avocado Blossom - A dark colored honey, with a rich, molasses like flavor. This honey is very slow to crystallize.
Cranberry Blossom - This honey has slight red tint to it. It even has picked up some of the tartness of the cranberry. I am a fan.
Star Thistle - A light colored honey that has a very floral smell and makes for a good all purpose honey.
Blueberry Blossom - A light honey with a subtle berry like taste to it.
Cherry Blossom - A medium colored honey that has a nice fruity flavor to it.
Apple Blossom - A light honey that with fruity notes to it.
Almond Blossom - A very dark, bitter honey. The bitter notes can overwhelm the sweetness. Most beekeepers either mix the honey with something else or sell it as baker's grade.
Meadowfoam - Marshmallows. This honey totally tastes like vanilla marshmallows. I have never had any honey like it. I love eating a spoonful from the jar right before bed.
Blackberry Blossom - Out of the berry honeys this one tends to be the darkest.
Raspberry Blossom - Out of the berry honeys this one tends to be the lightest. A subtle berry flavor.
Buckwheat - A strong smelling honey, some people are offended by it. Buckwheat honey is about as dark as molasses. It is especially sought after as a baking honey. I have had a wild buckwheat honey that is lighter than the standard buckwheat. It was amazing.
Lime Blossom - A thicker honey with citrus notes to it. I find the flavor to be stronger than Orange Blossom.
Rhododendron - A sweet tasting honey with slightly fruity flavor without any hints of bitterness. A rare find I made last Christmas. Does crystallize quickly.
Fireweed - This honey is produced from a plant (Fireweed) that is among the first things to grow after a wildfire. It has a champagne like quality to it.
Tupleo - One of the most sought after honeys in the United States. The texture of this medium colored honey is like butter. It's also one of the more expensive honeys. I have only had it once at someone else's house.
Sourwood - This honey comes from the Appalachian mountains. It has a hint of spicy and maple in it's flavor. It's one of my favorites. It is a thinner honey that is easy to mix into things like yogurt.
Basswood - A pretty mild honey. Not very remarkable.
Goldenrod - This honey has the flavor of a later season wildflower. Goldenrod Honey has some interesting bitter notes to it. If you like honeys like Buckwheat, you should give this one a try.
Acacia - A very light, floral tasting honey. One of the lighest honeys you will find, and one of my wife's favorites.
Chestnut - My wife's least favorite. She thinks it tastes and smells like gym socks. So yeah it's strongly flavored. I appreciate it. It has a nutty taste to it. Nearly as dark as a Buckwheat honey.
Manuka - This honey is known for it's health benefits. It mostly comes from New Zealand. Many people take it as their medicine. It has a strong flavor, with bitter notes on the end.
Sunflower - A medium colored honey with a nice floral taste to it. Tends to crystallize easily.
Lavender - If any honey ever truly captured the flower source it's lavender. It has a strong floral/lavender flavor. The texture is more creamy. A lot of lavender honeys are easy to spread on toast.
Let your taste buds do some exploring. See what varietal honeys are available in your area. I like to collect a couple types and then make up some homemade biscuits. Honey on bread is the best way to appreciate the different characteristics of each honey.
Or do what I do, eat a spoonful as a midnight snack!
I love this post. I try to buy honey locally because I have heard that using locally-made honey can help reduce allergies.
Sweet! (pun intented... sadly)
Thanks for highlighting the fact that honey is not just a generic sugar source!
I also love that you profile each honey on it's own, and I read through your honey profiles with interest.
Keep up the awesome writing/tasting!
Thanks for the comment. I am actually planning on writing about how local honey helps allergies this week.
Informative. How can I judge or test at home that honey is natural or fabricated?
Thanks! It's hard to tell. Those that fabricate it are normally good at doing so. An smell that is out of the ordinary would probably indicate it's fabricated.