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Finally, a Winner: This Is the Best Honey Out There

Honey sample

Nine tubes of honey, waiting to be tasted

Honey sample

Nine tubes of honey, waiting to be tasted

Bees Work Hard to Make Honey

Honey is a magical substance. Do you ever stop to think about how we have access to this sticky-sweet substance? A small yellow and black striped insect drinks nectar from flowers using their proboscis (tongue). Then, they store it in their honey stomach and when they travel back to the hive, they regurgitate it up. In the process, it mixes with invertase, an enzyme, which helps break down part of the sugar. 

Next, the bee regurgitates this sweet mixture into a cell in the hive. Finally, worker bees gather round to fan the cell with their wings, which helps evaporate moisture, effectively concentrating the nectar into the substance we know and love. 

It’s quite the process! And a lot of work on the bees’ end. 

 

Ambrosia. Nectar of the gods.  

honey samples

Look at this sweet, sweet set

I can’t imagine a world without honey. I’ve used it since I was a kid, stirring a spoonful into a mug of herbal spiced tea and taking it with me to school during chilly, winter days. But, I didn’t truly appreciate how dynamic it is until I started learning more about honey bees. 

Clearly, I had no idea how many different varieties there are out there. Honestly, it’s endless since any given bee travels to an array of flowers (honey bees are foraging generalists) and the resulting flavor cannot be replicated. For example, if you have a hive, you may notice every year’s harvest tastes a little different from the last. 

Additionally, the native flora varies from state to state and even across the globe, which ultimately results in a wide range of flavor profiles available for us to consume. In Nepal, you can find hallucinogenic honey, for example. I have no interest in hallucinogenic sweeteners, but, there are a few notable varieties I’ve always wanted to try (sage, for example). Basically, I wanted to see how they all stack up against each other. Are all honey varieties created equal?

 

A Honey Taste Test

So, in an effort to show the utmost respect for Apis mellifera through a celebration of the fruits of their labor, I decided to do a honey taste test and share the results with you. I found a sampler of honey varieties that was the answer to my desires and eagerly awaited its arrival. Then, I thought about my ground rules to determine the best honey out there.  

 

The rules:

  • Each tube of honey came with a description card with characteristics. I’m not reading these ahead of time and will use my own palate to guide my experience.
  • I will taste the honey by itself, not on or with any other food product.
  • In between varieties, I will cleanse my palate with lemon water. 
  • I will evaluate based on aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and crystallization. 
  • Each sample will receive an overall rating from 0-10. 

 

The honey varieties I’ve included are wild raspberry, blueberry, sourwood, buckwheat, wild black sage, Tupelo, sweet yellow clover, maple blossom, and basswood. 

In the end, there will be a honey variety that receives top marks, but the real winner here is me because I get to taste a bunch of different honey varieties, some not readily available in my part of the country. Fortunately, you can join me in the winner’s circle since we all get to reap the saccharine benefits of the hard work of bees. 

Now follow along and discover the best honey available in the United States. 

sourwood honey

Here’s a hint: This tube holds the winner!

 

Wild Raspberry 

Origin: Maine

Color: Light amber

Aroma: Strong, sweet, like raisins dried in the sun

Flavor: Slight bite, juicy, nectarines, cocoa butter 

Mouthfeel: Melts quickly, light-bodied

Crystallization: Large crystals woven throughout

Rating: 4, the flavor is okay, but this honey doesn’t taste special

 

Blueberry 

Origin: Maine

Color: Light amber

Aroma: Mild, fleeting flowers on the wind

Flavor: Faintly of oatmeal, brown sugar, blueberry skin

Mouthfeel: Thick, crunchy, warm

Crystallization: Heavy

Rating: 6, tastes familiar and satisfying

 

Sourwood 

Origin: North Carolina

Color: Light amber with faint peach tones

Aroma: Astringent, earthy, faintly medicinal like eucalyptus

Flavor: Buttery, rich, like caramel

Mouthfeel: Creamy

Crystallization: None

Rating: 9, outstanding, rich flavor like caramel sauce

 

Honey drips

Viscous and delicious

Buckwheat 

Origin: Washington

Color: Deep mahogany 

Aroma: Molasses, hojicha tea, dark roast coffee

Viscosity: Medium, lingers on the palate

Flavor: Molasses, spice

Mouthfeel: Unexpectedly light-bodied

Crystallization: Fleeting, minuscule

Rating: 3, acrid aftertaste, like overroasted coffee

 

Wild Black Sage 

Origin: California

Color: Light amber

Aroma: Sour lemon, honeysuckle

Flavor: Gentle upfront, mouthwatering, savory 

Mouthfeel: Slow to dissolve

Crystallization: Heavy, coarse granules

Rating: 5, surprisingly savory

 

Tupelo 

Origin: Georgia

Color: Light amber

Aroma: Curious, floral, subtle spice

Flavor: Sweet, buttery, smooth, notes of pear

Mouthfeel: Almost tingly, coats the tongue and lingers 

Crystallization: None

Rating: 8, sweet, delicious, with fruit and floral notes

 

a spoonful of honey

Honey is perfect, eaten off a spoon

Sweet Yellow Clover 

Origin: Colorado

Color: Daffodil yellow

Aroma: Floral, nutmeg, cardamom

Flavor: Sun tea, cinnamon

Mouthfeel: Crystals slow to dissipate, but with a soft crunch

Crystallization: Medium-sized, 60% distribution

Rating: 7, distinct, spicy, tea-like

 

Maple Blossom

Origin: Oregon

Color: Dark amber

Aroma: A walk in the forest, marzipan 

Flavor: Maple up front and carried through the whole tasting experience, bubblegum top note

Mouthfeel: Melts quickly, maple sweetness reverberates on the side of the palate 

Crystallization: Heavy, but with gentle granules 

Rating: 7, strongly of maple

 

Basswood 

Origin: New York

Color: Amber

Aroma: Earthy, floral, overripe fruit 

Flavor: Rosewater, salt

Mouthfeel: Sticks to the back of the palate

Crystallization: Medium-sized, 60% distribution

Rating: 4, flavors are fleeting and disparate

 

After all your reading, we have a winner: sourwood honey from North Carolina! The other honey varieties of note are Tupelo honey, sweet yellow clover honey, and maple blossom honey. I highly recommend all of these varieties as they have complex, interesting flavor profiles and would pair beautifully with all sorts of fruits, pastries, and cheeses. Every one of the honey varieties I tested is worth a taste, but some become less memorable when compared to the best honey above.

 

Final Thoughts

Let’s take a moment to appreciate how we get to enjoy honey stirred, mixed, baked, or slathered onto some of our favorite foods. We can even enjoy it plain on a spoon. We can pay our respects to the honey bees who make it all possible for us, to provide us with such a tasty, versatile substance. 

If you’re interested in literally paying your respects, check out the great organizations (below) who do amazing work for pollinators. 

Moreover, if you want to be more active in showing your respects, plant some flowers for your local bees. Not sure where to start? We have a garden course coming out for that!

 

Resources:

https://www.pollinator.org/

https://www.xerces.org/

https://centerforhoneybeeresearch.org/hive-monitoring/

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Caitlin Knudsen

Caitlin Knudsen is a content writer for Beepods with a passion for lifelong learning and psychology. She is an avid gardener, grower of houseplants, and does recipe development and food photography in her spare time.
Caitlin Knudsen
Caitlin Knudsen is a content writer for Beepods with a passion for lifelong learning and psychology. She is an avid gardener, grower of houseplants, and does recipe development and food photography in her spare time.

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