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At the supermarket, I found many different brands and varieties of honey. Each came from a different place, but most were marketed based on flower-type. I bought a few different brands, but could not identify a difference.

Does the taste of honey vary depending on which flowers the bees lived around? Or are there other factors that create variety in the taste?

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    You didn't mention the country. There are different regulations regarding what may be called "honey" and what not. In USA, anything may be labelled as honey, though sometimes they contain zero percent of honey bee. – roetnig Jun 5 '17 at 15:16
  • @roetnig - the FDA says differently. They say that if it is labeled as "honey," then it must be honey, and only honey, and that they can take enforcement action if that's not the case. Can you point me to a source for your claim? In addition, they have specific alerts out for checking for adulteration with sugars and/or chloramphenicol and fluoroquinolones. fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/… – PoloHoleSet Jun 6 '17 at 19:23
  • And how you explain the lack of pollen in most US brands ? Why US commercial honey doesn't crystallize ? – roetnig Jun 6 '17 at 22:14
  • @roetnig - lack of (obvious) pollen can be explained by filtering, by less or more elaborate means. And the honey I've seen does crystallize eventually, it just seems to take a very long time - much longer than the best-by dates they sport - possibly due to something in the process of filtering or heating, or water content, or something. And there may well be adulterated honeys out there, illegal does not mean it is always caught, but that doesn't mean there is no regulation or requirements. Though your zero percent claim really could use some source. – Megha Jun 7 '17 at 1:10
  • Filtering honey doesn't eliminate pollen. You should micro-filter it to get rid of pollen, and the process isn't cheap. Commercial USA honey doesn't crystallize as natural honey does (and should do under certain conditions because it's over saturated sugar). Most of USA commercial honey is produced abroad, and absence of pollen indicates two things 1) micro-filtering 2) you cannot trace it's origin so may be a mix of honeys from different countries, corn syrup or whatever... oh see? corn syrup doesn't crystallize either... and finally, off the shelf honey in USA doesn't taste at all like honey – roetnig Jun 7 '17 at 14:46
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It's ALL different from year to year - from season to season, from area to area. Honey is nectar that has been converted to an invert sugar by the bees. Then moisture removed to < 18%, then sealed with wax over the comb.

The flavors and quality depend 100% on where the bees are collecting the nectar. I have found no difference in the type of bee, however. Some bees collect more nectar, work longer hours, swarm easier, and have other traits that make life easier for the bee keeper, but in my apiary - I found no preference to the flavor of one type of bee over the other. (Italian vs. Carniolan, vs. Caucasian). Some were a bit different because I think some flew earlier and foraged longer, and may have gotten nectar that was from different mix of flowers.

There is also almost NO true "organic" honey. This is because you cannot guarantee that a bee ONLY has access to property that falls under the organic guidelines. With a flight radius of 2 Miles or more, thats a LOT of acres that would have to be certified 100% organic.

Most Clover honey will usually taste about the same, mesquite, about the same - but having sampled lots of it - it DOES change from season to season and area to area. Various regions and seasons have different mixes of flowers and trees producing nectar at any given time, and that is what flavors the honey.

For the best honey, get Pure, Unfiltered, Raw honey, from a Local source. You may try a farmers market. It's a hot, hard job, and the pay is not so great, but most beekeepers (as most other farmers) do not do it for the big bucks - but for the love of the land, the bees, and farming. Note that some honey may be adulterated by the use of pesticides that are not allowed in the USA. And some large companies buy honey from anyone and any place and it all gets mixed together.

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    Related: another question. While pesticides might not be the problem, some countries have banned import from others due to contamination with antibiotics, lead, and other trace toxins. There are certainly issues with USA regulations, but that doesn't imply that all foreign farmers are likely to be better. – Athanasius May 8 '15 at 14:25
  • My dad raised honey bees when I was a kid. Sold a good portion of the honey to people he knew from his day job as a scientist. There never a problem with having not enough people who wanted the honey. The last place we had them, we lived on the top of a hill near the high school. The top of the next hill was a farm that was mainly fruit orchards (and they had a small community theater run out of one of the barns). Needless to say, they were happy to be the host location for my dad's hives. – PoloHoleSet Jun 6 '17 at 19:13
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Clover is generic in the US, there are other very cool varieties but they might not be as easy to find.

Grocery store clover honey is pretty much a commodity, I buy 5 pound bottles of Sue Bee Clover Honey, made in Iowa, for less than $15. Watch for phonies: How to tell if it is honey, super filtered honey, or corn syrup?

Wildflower and Orange Blossom are not terribly rare, and can sometimes be found on grocery shelves. The differences between these "grocery store" varieties are pretty subtle, but they're there. As Kogitsune noted in comments, sometimes you can get lucky and find more interesting honey in the grocery store.

From Honey at Home

The color, flavor, and even aroma of a particular variety of honey may differ depending on the nectar source of flowers visited by the honey bee. The colors may range from nearly colorless to dark brown, the flavor may vary from delectably mild to distinctively bold, and even the odor of the honey may be mildly reminiscent of the flower. Varietal honeys may be best compared to varietal wine in terms of annual climactic changes. Even the same flower blooming in the same location may produce slightly different nectar from year-to-year depending upon temperature and rainfall.

Special honey is a boutique kind of item. Around here (Alaska), Fireweed honey is big.

1 (from above link)


From Amazon

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Buckwheat honey is very rich and almost black.

Checking out honey varieties is really pretty exciting, but you're not going to find much at the local mega-mart. These are usually small-batch, specialty items. Look at the link at the top of this answer, it goes into very nice detail.

  • This depends on your location, as do many other things - my local grocer consistently stocks Orange Blossom and Alfalfa in addition to the typical Clover, plus any rotating stock. Definitely recommend trying other varieties than clover or wildflower, especially if you feel you don't really like honey. – Kogitsune Sep 4 '14 at 12:53
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    @Kogitsune Absolutely right. There's so much variety, it would be a shame to think you don't like honey because you don't care for one type. – Jolenealaska Sep 4 '14 at 12:57
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    Honey is one of those ingredients where it's worth finding a small, local maker. Especially if you can find one at a farmer's market who's willing to give samples. (although you won't necessarily find fireweed honey ... I've only seen that when visiting Alaska) – Joe Sep 4 '14 at 15:40
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There are, or were, supermarkets which stock multiple distinctly different honeys. The one I went to about a decade ago made a point of having a range available; I grew very fond of sage honey, for example.

If you check farmers' markets you should be able to find "wildflower" honey (ie, whatever the bees happened to gather, possibly blended from multiple hives), and if the vendor has an orchard or other large farm which they're using bees to pollenate, they'll be likely to have honey mostly gathered from those flowers.

Given the problems bees have been having recently, it may be more difficult to find specific honeys than it used to be. You may have to resort to mail-order.

Some vendors have been suspected of stretching honey by adding sugar from other sources. I don't know whether there's any truth to that or not, but shop carefully.

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Most widely-available brands (store brands or big name brands) of commercially available honey will be very similar and have essentially the same composition. It doesn't matter what brand you purchase if you're using it for cooking.

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