It’s harvest season for local spring honey! With the growing popularity of this natural sweetener, honey marketing is filled with trendy buzz-words and confusing claims. Here are a few facts about honey to help you.
How bees make honey
Bees collect nectar from flowers and carry it back to the hive in special “honey stomachs”. Then they deposit it into wax honey comb cells. In the process of depositing and preparing the nectar for storage, bees add proteins that act as natural preservatives. The honey is left in the cells until enough moisture has evaporated, then the cells are capped over by the bees.
In Central Florida, honey is typically collected from managed beehives once in summer and once in late fall, right after the major flower blooming periods. Good beekeepers are careful to leave plenty of honey in the hives for bees to eat later when nectar from flowers isn’t readily available.
Raw honey– has not been heated, thus preserving beneficial enzymes and properties. Typically, only large honey processors warm honey slightly to make the bottling process more efficient.
Organic honey– produced in beehives that were not treated with synthetic antibiotics or pesticides. The nectar sources cannot be controlled and therefore do not factor in to whether honey is considered organic.
Strained or filtered honey– has been strained through mesh to remove only large pieces of wax, and other debris from honey. Pollen, protein, and beneficial properties are still intact in strained honey. Small scale beekeepers who say their honey has been “filtered” are usually referring to this process of straining to remove obvious debris from honey. Strained honey will typically not crystallize as quickly as unstrained honey.
Ultrafiltered honey– has had pollen, protein, and polypeptides filtered out. Ultrafiltered honey is not allowed to be labeled “honey” in the U.S.
Local honey– may be difficult to identify in terms of actual origin or nectar source, as there is no definition for local, and many honey sellers are not the beekeepers that harvested it.
Honey obtains its flavor from different kinds of flower nectar. “Wildflower honey” is a mix of whatever is in bloom during the honey collection period, and will therefore have a wide range of flavors. Honey from large areas of a single nectar plant is often labeled by its nectar source. Here are some common Central Florida honeys and their flavors: Saw Palmetto -rich and caramely; Orange Blossom-light and floral; Brazilian Pepper-spicy and tangy; Goldenrod- unique and earthy; Gallberry- rich and fruity.
Honey and health
Honey has proven health benefits and medicinal uses. Since the composition of honey varies widely depending on nectar sources, the beneficial elements and properties also vary. While honey is anecdotally said to prevent environmental allergies because it contains pollen, this claim has not been supported by research. Furthermore, many plants that people are typically allergic to are wind-pollinated, not insect pollinated, so bees are less likely to collect significant quantities of (supposedly beneficial) allergenic pollen that would end up in honey.
Learn about beekeeping in Osceola County