A spoonful of honey in a cup of tea, a drizzle over cheese, a slather on toasted bread -- it’s so simple, so delicious. There’s probably a jar of honey in your pantry right now, but what kind is it? A grassy alfalfa honey? Or a robust buckwheat or a smooth blueberry? There are roughly 300 naturally occurring honey varieties produced in the U.S., each with their own flavor profiles and best uses.
"A lot of people think of honey as one note and one flavor but it’s really more like wine where different regions all have their own notes," said Margaret Lombard, CEO of the National Honey Board, which represents honey producers throughout the U.S., including large commercial apiaries and artisans selling at farmers market.
Every U.S., state produces honey but the color and flavor of that honey varies greatly depending on the local nectar sources available to the bees. The color of honey can range from dark brown to almost colorless with the lighter the color the more mild the taste. The average honey bee will travel two to three miles to forage, although they have been known to travel even further. Within that range the floral and fauna the bees forage on effects the type of honey.
"Think of honey as a flavor enhancer that can add different nuances to food," Lombard said. For instance you’ll find dark, robust in flavor buckwheat honey in Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Buckwheat honey, according to honey expert and author of the "The Honey Connoisseur," Marina Marchese, pairs well with the strong, musty flavors and crumbly texture of Gorgonzola cheese or dark chocolate due to buckwheat’s notes of chocolate and cherries. While a light in color, fruity, smooth-textured blueberry honey, Marchese said, would be divine with creamy ricotta. Blueberry honey, produced in New England and Michigan, occurs when bees collect the nectar of the tiny white flowers of the blueberry bush. The most common types of honey in the U.S. are wildflower, clover, and blends.
If you’re looking to explore different types of honey, a good way to start is by picking a few varieties from different floral sources. Much as you would with wine, look first at the color, smell it, and then taste it.
"Honey has such a huge range of varietals and the pairings are sort of endless, we’re really just starting to explore them." Lombard said.
Watch Martha collect honey from the bee hives on her property: